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Wealthy Turkish gold trader wants to pay for luxury jail

A rich Turkish gold trader charged with scheming to help Iran evade U.S. sanctions on Thursday became the latest multimillionaire to seek pretrial release from jail by offering to pay for armed private security guards to watch over him in a private apartment.

U.S. District Judge Richard Berman withheld action on the request by Reza Zarrab at a federal court hearing in Manhattan after prosecutor Michael Lockard argued such bail plans allow the “lavishly wealthy” to buy cushier jail cells than poor defendants have to endure.

“Some judges have expressed concern the . . . [law] is being abused by wealthy defendants to create conditions of confinement that are more comfortable and convenient to them, not conditions of release designed to reasonably assure their presence at trial,” said Lockard, who estimated Zarrab’s net worth at more than $200 million.

French politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn used a similar plan to get out of Rikers Island when he faced sex assault charges in 2011, and Hong Kong billionaire Ng Lap Seng was released to a $4 million apartment last fall while awaiting trial on an alleged U.N. bribery scheme.

Zarrab’s lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, argued that his client was a flight risk only because he had no U.S. ties — he was arrested while visiting Walt Disney World with his family — and said the only issue was whether armed guards could make sure Zarrab doesn’t flee.

“The inequality between people of means and people of no means in the justice system . . . is not his fault,” Brafman told the judge.

Berman said he would rule in the “next week or so.”

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