Reza Zarrab, a wealthy Turkish gold trader charged in Manhattan federal court with violating sanctions on Iran, moved Tuesday to remove the judge on his case because of alleged critical remarks he made about the Turkish government at a 2014 Istanbul conference.
Zarrab had been arrested in 2013 on corruption charges linked to the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, according to his motion, and then was released just before the conference when Erdogan ousted hundreds of police, prosecutors and judges.
U.S. District Judge Richard Berman, who is presiding over Zarrab’s case in Manhattan, said in remarks at the Istanbul conference that the Turkish government’s actions threatened the rule of law and judicial independence, according to the recusal motion.
Four partners in the Turkish law firm that sponsored Berman’s visit have now been charged with being followers of Fetullah Gulen, the expatriate Turkish imam living in Pennsylvania who Erdogan has said instigated the recent coup attempt, and Berman’s comments aligned him with Gulen’s views, the motion said.
The conference visit was voluntarily disclosed by Berman at Zarrab’s first court appearance. The judge subsequently denied him bail. Zarrab’s lawyers said they have now concluded the visit created an “appearance of partiality.”
As a result of Zarrab’s ties to Erdogan’s government and the previous effort to prosecute him in Turkey, the U.S. case gained widespread attention from Turks, earning Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara thousands of new Twitter followers when it was filed.