Reza Zarrab, the Turkish gold trader who has become a star federal witness detailing a massive Iran sanctions-busting scheme he devised, testified in Manhattan federal court Tuesday he made $100 million to $150 million from the plot as Turkey’s president stepped up criticism of the U.S. trial.
Zarrab also admitted he spent more than a year in federal jails hoping to win release through a prisoner exchange with Turkey before deciding to cooperate, but denied that anger at Turkish officials for not doing enough to make it happen fueled his testimony about bribes to President Recep Erdogan’s government.
“I don’t have any anger toward anybody, no,” Zarrab said as he faced cross-examination for the first time after five days on the stand.
Zarrab, 34, who was expected to be on trial himself until cutting a deal in October, is testifying at the trial of Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a banker who allegedly aided the scheme. Seven other Turks, including Erdogan’s former economy minister, have been charged.
The scheme was first uncovered by Turkish police in 2013, but Zarrab and other participants were freed and police and prosecutors purged by Erdogan, who said the accusations were part of an anti-government plot by political opponents.
The U.S. trial, in which Atilla’s alleged role has been overshadowed by testimony linking Erdogan personally to sanctions-busting, has raised diplomatic tensions with Turkey. Erdogan has called Zarrab a “hostage,” and this week renewed his criticism, calling the case “blackmail” to achieve hostile foreign policy goals.
“Turkey has no plans against the United States, but it is clear that the U.S. has plans against us,” Erdogan said, according to an Associated Press report.
Defense lawyers at trial have been trying to portray Atilla as a pawn being used to get at Erdogan. During cross-examination, Zarrab admitted that unlike the bank’s manager Atilla never got bribes and met with Zarrab only a “handful” of times during the 4 years the bank was involved.
Under questioning, Zarrab also detailed $45,000 in bribes he said he paid to a guard at New York’s federal jail through a Turkish lawyer to smuggle in contraband while he was imprisoned. He said he got liquor, use of a cellphone and even some “synthetic cannabis.”
Prosecutors have declined to comment about any charges against jail employees.