‘Stealth’ Turkish businessman a no-show for trial this month
NEW YORK (AP) — A Turkish businessman whose criminal case became a controversy at the highest levels of U.S. and Turkish government looks like he’ll never make it to trial.
Even a co-defendant’s lawyer last week labeled Reza Zarrab the “stealth” defendant after he and his lawyers skipped a pretrial conference a few weeks before the scheduled date of his trial on charges that he conspired to process hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of financial transactions for Iranian businesses or Iran’s government through U.S. banks. Authorities say those transactions are banned by U.S. and international sanctions.
Prosecutors and the judge made no mention of him. His lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, was not in court. Asked for comment, he declined.
The signs make it likely his case will be resolved as part of a deal with prosecutors. His lawyers filed no challenges to evidence the government will use at trial and did not contribute to other typical late pre-trial activities, like recommending questions that should be asked of prospective jurors.
The mystery surrounding Zarrab only grew late last week when the Federal Bureau of Prisons website began listing him as having been released from a New York City federal lockup on Wednesday. Federal officials insist he’s still in custody, but it is unclear in what form.
It is also unclear if whatever resolution appears imminent has resulted from attempts at a diplomatic solution by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and ex-Attorney General Michael Mukasey.
After they were hired by Zarrab earlier this year, they met with Turkey’s president and said they planned to meet as well with top U.S. officials to resolve the case without trial. They never appeared in court and made it clear they did not plan to do so.
Prosecutors initially challenged the representation, noting that law firms employing Giuliani and Mukasey had represented banks in the case and there could be a conflict of interest. The challenges and questions by U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman led to affidavits from Giuliani and Mukasey in which they tried to minimize the charges, saying none of the financial transactions involved weapons, nuclear technology or other contraband.
The claims led Assistant U.S. Attorney Dennis Lockard to say at one hearing that Zarrab is charged with a “serious national security offense” and that entities that benefited from the financial scheme to evade sanctions include the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Iranian banks that have been sanctioned for their role in providing financing for Iran’s nuclear programs. But prosecutors have been silent since Zarrab stopped participating in pre-trial motions.
Zarrab, 33, of Istanbul, has been in custody since his March 2016 arrest as he arrived with his family in Florida for vacation. He is a well-known personality in Turkey partly because he’s married to Turkish pop star and TV personality Ebru Gundes.