MANHATTAN (CN) — President Donald Trump’s allies Rudy Giuliani and Mike Mukasey must produce their retainer agreements on behalf of a Turkish tycoon accused of money laundering for Iran for a secret court inspection, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
U.S. District Judge Richard Berman’s order draws more attention to the broad geopolitical ripples in the case of Reza Zarrab, a wealthy ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan charged with sanctions violations.
Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City, and Mukasey, an ex-U.S. attorney general, met with Erdogan in late February to “discuss potential ways to facilitate a resolution of the charges” against Zarrab, prosecutors recently disclosed in court papers.
The revelation drew further attention to how Giuliani and Mukasey’s law firms are tied to other parties affected by the case.
Giuliani’s firm Greenberg Traurig is a registered agent of the Turkish government, and Mukasey’s firm Debovoise Plimpton has represented several of the international banks the prosecutors believe to be the victims of Zarrab's money laundering.
Berman’s order lists those firms as Deutsche Bank, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Citibank, HSBC, Standard Chartered, UBS and Wells Fargo.
At a hearing on Tuesday, Zarrab’s lead attorney Benjamin Brafman insisted that his client knew about these affiliations, and the court did not need to investigate further. He also defended Giuliani and Mukasey’s extracurricular meetings with Turkish and U.S. leaders as his client’s attempt to “explore whether there may be a diplomatic solution to this case.”
Echoing arguments from his letter, Brafman called the prosecution’s inquiry out of bounds.
“That information quite frankly is none of the government’s business and in any event is covered by the attorney-client privilege and/or constitutes privileged attorney work product,” Brafman wrote in a letter on March 31.
Apparently quoting this passage in his order today, Berman ruled that the obligations to “ensure the integrity of these proceedings” and avoid conflicts-of-interest are “unquestionably this court’s ‘business.’”
In addition to their retainer agreements, Giuliani and Mukasey must disclose what banks involved in the case their firms represent. The firm Greenberg Traurig must detail more information about its relationship to the Turkish government, and whether Giuliani has been involved in that part of the firm’s work.
Zarrab must also disclose who else may be paying his legal bills.
The information will be filed under seal, for the court's inspection only, before April 14, just 10 days before the next scheduled hearing.
An intriguing footnote to the decision shows that Berman has been keeping up with news reports of political jockeying happening behind the scenes of Zarrab's case.
“Media accounts that the court is aware of suggest that the Zarrab case has been discussed by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on or about March 30, 2017,” the judge wrote.
Citing reports by The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune and elsewhere, Berman noted that Turkey’s leader and top officials have for years lobbied on behalf of Zarrab, reaching out to former Vice President Joe Biden and ex-Attorney General Loretta Lynch, among other U.S. officials.
With Trump’s administration, the Erdogan government may find a more receptive audience in fighting off a holdover case of the Obama administration, and the recently fired U.S. attorney who brought it, Preet Bharara.
Giuliani was one of Trump’s top aides during his 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.
Under federal precedent, a judge can disqualify a lawyer from representing a criminal defendant if the attorney has a conflict-of-interest that could harm the client’s case.
But Berman emphasized that Zarrab’s due-process rights are not the only concern.
"The question of disqualification therefore implicates not only the Sixth Amendment right of the accused, but also the interests of the courts in preserving the integrity of the process and the government's interests in ensuring a just verdict and a fair trial,” his 15-page ruling states.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office and Brafman declined to comment on the ruling.
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