MANHATTAN (CN) – Capping off a week on the witness stand in an Iran sanctions case, gold trader Reza Zarrab recounted an attempt to assassinate him inside a U.S. prison because of his testimony that has implicated Turkey’s president and ministers in illicit transactions worth billions.
“I came face to face with an individual who was trying to take my life, and he had pulled a knife on me, and I was about to lose my life,” Zarrab told a New York jury on Thursday.
Zarrab said that the man acknowledged coming after him because he had flipped to the U.S. government.
“He said that he had received instructions to kill because I was cooperating,” he said.
Far away from his birthplace of Iran, Zarrab has made powerful enemies in his adopted country of Turkey, where his pop-star wife and other members of his family remain.
President Recep Tayip Erdogan’s administration seized Zarrab’s assets and those of his family the day after Zarrab implicated him in a money laundering scheme: When Erdogan was prime minister, Zarrab said, the Turkish leader personally ordered transactions that would launder billions of dollars to Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions.
One of the Turkish banks processing these transactions had a branch here in New York, Zarrab said last week.
On Thursday, Zarrab said that Turkish prosecutors’ counteroffensive against him has claimed collateral damage for 18 people whom the Turkish government slapped with espionage charges.
"There are some individuals there that I didn't know existed on earth," Zarrab said today. "There are some individuals I did not even know.”
Overshadowed by this geopolitical intrigue, Zarrab has been called as the U.S. government’s star witness — not against any president or politician, but against a banker: Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a former manager at the state-run Halkbank.
Atilla’s attorney Cathy Fleming said that Zarrab’s still-unidentified, would-be assailant denies the incident occurred.
“That wouldn't be a surprise to me,” Zarrab responded. “Of course he would deny it.”
The U.S. Bureau of Prisons confirmed receipt of a request for information about the alleged incident, but the agency offered no new details by press time.
Zarrab said that retaliation from his government has not stopped him from testifying.
“I'm here now," the 34-year-old told Assistant U.S. Attorney Sidhardha Kamaraju.
From that perch, Zarrab lobbed new accusations against powerful Turkish politicians today involving the aftermath of a 2013 corruption scandal that gripped Turkey.
Zarrab was among several allies of Erdogan imprisoned there before a criminal probe mysteriously disappeared in December that year, ending what Erdogan had called a “judicial coup” against him.
Corroborating criticisms that justice was not served by the probe’s closure, Zarrab said that he helped pay his way out of a Turkish prison.
“How did you get out of those charges?” Kamaraju asked him.
“I made payments and partially, they were bribes,” Zarrab said.
Newly released from prison, Zarrab said, he considered starting “to trade again” at Halkbank.
Zarrab said he spoke about that idea with his attorney, “possibly” in 2014.
According to a message submitted into evidence, the attorney reported to Zarrab that “someone” said: "This job should definitely be done.”
Zarrab testified that “someone” was Turkish businessman Berat Albayrak, who is Erdogan’s son-in-law and now Turkey’s minister of energy.
In another conversation, Zarrab’s attorney said that he would “meet with BB and would also summon the general manager.”
Zarrab said that “BB” was code for “the prime minister,” and the general manager was Ali Fuat, who was then in charge of Halkbank.
After Zarrab stepped down from the witness stand, prosecutors called a series of current and former U.S. law enforcement officers. Proceedings ended today with testimony from Wilmer Hale attorney David Cohen, a former deputy director for the CIA who previously worked as the undersecretary for the Treasury Department’s Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.
Cohen will continue his testimony Friday.
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