Giuliani Kept on Retainer for Accused Iran Sanctions Buster

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, center, smiles as he leaves Trump Tower, Friday, Nov. 11, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

MANHATTAN (CN) — Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani can keep offering legal help to a Turkish tycoon accused of busting Iran sanctions, a federal judge ruled.

The focus of the case against Turkish gold trader Reza Zarrab veered from the accused money launderer to his attorneys in March, amid revelations that he retained Giuliani and Michael Mukasey, a former U.S. attorney general under President George W. Bush.

Bringing more than legal advice to the defense table, however, the powerful Republicans met in late February with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to come up with what they called a “diplomatic solution” to Zarrab’s case.

With Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions briefed about it in advance, the visit cast a spotlight on Giuliani and Mukasey’s law firms, as well as evolving foreign relations between Washington and Ankara.

Giuliani’s law firm Greenberg Traurig is a registered agent of the Turkish government, and the former mayor was a top surrogate for President Donald Trump, who has real estate interests in Istanbul.

In addition to having fired the U.S. attorney behind Zarrab’s case, meanwhile, Trump has faced criticism from human-rights groups for cozying up with Turkey’s increasingly authoritarian ruler. These tensions came to a head last month when Erdogan paid Trump a visit at the White House.

Amid the swirl of shifting alliances, U.S. District Judge Richard Berman pressed Zarrab over whether he understood that Giuliani could find his loyalties divided between his client and government interests.

The judge also told Zarrab that Mukasey’s firm, Debovoise Plimpton, represents eight banks alleged to be victims of his money laundering. The clients are Deutsche Bank, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Citibank, HSBC, Standard Chartered, UBS and Wells Fargo.

Zarrab insisted that he wanted to keep his lawyers, however, and Berman granted his request on Thursday.

“The court concludes that Mr. Zarrab … has voluntarily and knowingly waived the above described potential conflicts,” the 7-page opinion states.

In ending the probe of Giuliani and Mukasey’s corporate and geopolitical entanglements, Berman said he wants to be notified “promptly … of any change of circumstances which may result in actual conflict or which may exacerbate potential conflict(s) of interests.”

“These conflict situations must continue to be closely monitored, principally by the defense,” Berman wrote.

Though the investigation ended with a whimper, Berman’s probe generated embarrassing publicity for Giuliani, an anti-Iran hawk now representing a client accused of funneling millions to the country’s nuclear program.

Prosecutors say that Zarrab wrote a letter to Iran’s former hardline president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to offer his services. 

Berman has slammed Giuliani before for soft-pedaling Zarrab’s charges as a case concerning the sale of “consumer goods.”

Ridiculing that defense as “surprisingly disingenuous,” Berman said exactly one month ago: “They know very well that if the allegations in the indictment are established by a jury, the defendant will be found to have committed serious felonies.”

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