Turkish Official Asked U.S. Attorney General to Release Reza Zarrab

Turkey’s justice minister made the request during a meeting with Loretta Lynch last month, according to a court filing.

NICOLE HONG

A top Turkish government official recently met with Attorney General Loretta Lynch and told her the prosecution of Turkish businessman Reza Zarrab was “based on no evidence,” according to a court filing unsealed Tuesday, a sign that tensions between the U.S. and Turkey have escalated over Mr. Zarrab’s arrest.

The filing from federal prosecutors in Manhattan said the official, Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag, also asked that Mr. Zarrab be released from U.S. custody and returned to Turkey. The meeting happened approximately two weeks ago, according to the filing.

Mr. Zarrab, a gold trader in Turkey with dual Turkish-Iranian citizenship, was arrested in March when he arrived in Florida for a family vacation. Prosecutors charged him with conspiring to violate U.S. sanctions and help Iranian entities conduct hundreds of millions of dollars worth of financial transactions through U.S. banks.

Mr. Zarrab is a household name in Turkey. Local prosecutors in 2013 charged him with bribing Turkish ministers with ties to then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, charges which were later dropped following a switch in the prosecutorial team.

In Tuesday’s filing, U.S. prosecutors said the Turkish government has made recent attempts to interfere with the prosecution against Mr. Zarrab, led by the office of Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. Mr. Erdogan, now the Turkish president, has told the local press that Mr. Zarrab’s case was politically motivated and accused the U.S. of having “ulterior motives,” the filing said.

The disclosure came after Mr. Zarrab’s lawyers sought the judge’s permission to give Mr. Bozdag a copy of a 2014 search warrant application that allowed the U.S. government to search Mr. Zarrab’s emails. His lawyers claimed the warrant application was based on a “widely discredited” document that purported to be a Turkish law enforcement report, whose authenticity could be verified or denied by Mr. Bozdag.

The judge denied the motion on Tuesday.

Mr. Zarrab’s lawyers have suggested in previous court filings that Mr. Bharara’s prosecutors only pursued this investigation because they were unhappy that charges were dropped against Mr. Zarrab in the Turkish bribery case.

The political sensitivities surrounding the case only heightened this summer, after a failed attempt by the Turkish military in July to overthrow the Erdogan administration.

Mr. Zarrab has pleaded not guilty, and he is scheduled to face trial in January.

Mr. Bozdag’s meeting with Ms. Lynch appears to have occurred during his trip to Washington late last month, where he presented fresh evidence to U.S. authorities on Turkey’s claim that Pennsylvania-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen was behind the failed coup. Turkey seeks the imam’s extradition and has already put Mr. Gulen on trial in absentia for alleged efforts to topple Mr. Erdogan’s government.

Turkish prosecutors have charged Mr. Gulen and his religious network with fabricating the corruption allegations that ensnared Mr. Zarrab and government officials in 2013. Mr. Gulen denies Turkey’s charges and has said he believes the U.S. wouldn’t force his return.


Emre Peker and Margaret Coker contributed to this article.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

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