Feds Tie Turkish Tycoon to Ahmadinejad

MANHATTAN (CN) — Previewing their evidence against a Turkish gold trader accused of laundering money for Iran, prosecutors told a federal judge Monday that Reza Zarrab spoke about the scheme directly with Iran’s former hardline president.

“We expect the evidence will show that Mr. Zarrab offered these services to Iran in a letter personally addressed to then-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and that Mr. Zarrab funneled tens of millions of dollars to high-level government and bank officials to facilitate and protect this scheme,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Lockard told the court.

This morning’s hearing before U.S. District Judge Richard Berman comes on the heels of court-ordered affidavits from two of the high-profile Republican attorneys whom Zarrab has retained for his defense.

Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City, described his legal work for Zarrab as mostly diplomatic.

“Those services have focused principally although not exclusively on an effort to determine whether this case can be resolved as part of some agreement between the United States and Turkey that will promote the national security interests of the United States and redound to the benefit of Mr. Zarrab,” Giuliani’s April 14 declaration says.

The New York Times has since reported that the United States might seek Turkey’s help in its military strategy fighting the Islamic State group in Syria.

Mike Mukasey, a former U.S. attorney general, uses identical language to Giuliani in his affidavit, describing plans to hold “further meetings or conversations” with senior U.S. and Turkish officials.

Both Giuliani and Mukasey insist they informed prosecutors their efforts  “on a confidential basis.”

“Indeed, one of those officials stated that out of necessity he has grown used to functioning in an atmosphere that includes inaccurate and ill-intentioned leaks,” Giuliani wrote. “That receptiveness is hardly surprising when one considers that none of the transactions in which Mr. Zarrab is alleged to have participated involved weapons or nuclear technology, or any other contraband, but rather involved consumer goods, and that Turkey is situated in a part of the world strategically critical to the United States.”

Lockard told the court that the affidavits seek to “muddy the waters.”

“Confidentiality was not requested or promised, nor could it have been, in light of the issues that are raised by the potential conflict-of-interest issue,” the prosecutor said.

Lockard emphasized that Zarrab was no low-hanging fruit for these international negotiations.

“What is charged in this case is a serious national security offense,” he said, describing Zarrab as the leader of a “multiyear conspiracy” to evade sanctions.

“The entities that benefited from this alleged scheme include the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and agents or affiliates of that entity; Iranian banks that have been sanctioned for their role in providing financing for Iran’s nuclear programs; and Iranian commercial airlines sanctioned because of the assistance that it provided to the IRGC and the Quds Force for their external operations in Iraq and Syria and support for Hezbollah,” the prosecutor added.

The court will dissect Giuliani and Mukasey’s role in the case again on May 2, at a hearing to investigate whether their Turkish ties pose a conflict of interest.

Giuliani’s law firm Greenberg Traurig is a registered agent of the Turkish government, and both he and Mukasey spoke about Zarrab’s release in person with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Erdogan subsequently seized broad executive powers in an April 16 national referendum. Though human rights observers blasted Turkey’s vote as a plebiscite to rubber-stamp autocratic rule, the move drew swift praise from President Donald Trump, who has large real estate interests in Istanbul.

Giuliani was one of Trump’s top aides during his presidential campaign, and Mukasey’s son is said to be on a short list for the next U.S. attorney for the district that is now prosecuting Zarrab.

Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney who indicted Zarrab, has commented on the case often since his ouster by the Trump administration.

“One just hopes that the rule of law, and its independent enforcement, still matters in the United States and at the Department of Justice,” Bharara posted to Twitter on April 20, linking to New York Times coverage of the Zarrab case. 

On Tuesday, Trump will deliver the keynote address at an annual Holocaust remembrance ceremony at the U.S. Capitol.

This presidential tradition has generated controversy this year because Trump’s invitation fell a day after he praised French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who flirted with Holocaust revisionism in denying her country’s complicity with the Holocaust.

Simon Schama, a prominent British scholar of French history, called the U.S. Holocaust Museum’s invitation to Trump an “unspeakable desecration.”

“This is the man who endorses le Pen, the denier of Vichy role in the Shoah,” Schama wrote in a Twitter post.

A French court convicted the politician’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who founded her National Front party, of denying the Holocaust in 2008.

Trump made a veiled reference to Iran in his attempt Sunday to repair the damage with a prerecorded video address to the World Jewish Congress.

“We must defeat terrorism, and we must not ignore the threats of a regime that talks openly of Israel’s destruction,” Trump said, in an apparent allusion to Ahmadinejad’s remarks at the “World Without Zionism” conference in 2005.

Iran’s state-run media translated Ahmadinejad as saying Israel should be “wiped off the map,” though Persian translators alternately translated the remarks as stating that the “occupation regime over Jerusalem should vanish from the page of time.”

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