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Star government witness in banker trial said he might lie

Turkish-Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab, who is charged currently

Turkish-Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab, who is charged currently in the U.S. for evading sanctions on Iran, arrives at a courthouse in Istanbul on Dec. 17, 2013. Credit: AP / STR

Reza Zarrab, the star government witness at a politically sensitive Iran sanctions-busting trial that has implicated Turkish President Recep Erdogan, said in a recorded jail conversation last year that he might have to lie to get out of prison, according to a defense filing on Monday.

Lawyers for banker Mehmet Hakan Atilla, who is accused in Manhattan federal court of aiding the multibillion-dollar scheme to launder oil money for Iran, said that on recordings just turned over by prosecutors Zarrab says, “In America in order to make it out of prison you need to admit to something you haven’t committed.”

The audio is in a foreign language, the filing said, but an English summary supplied by the government also quotes Zarrab saying prisoners need to lie “in order to get out or get a reduced sentence” and “you need to admit to crimes you haven’t committed.”

Zarrab, 34, a wealthy Turkish trader, was arrested on a family trip to Disney World in March, 2016. The calls were recorded last fall. Zarrab secretly became a government informant, and in testimony beginning last week has detailed bribes he paid to ministers in Erdogan’s government and support from the top.

The defense complained that the potentially exculpatory calls, which could make for a possibly potent cross examination, were not disclosed until Saturday. Prosecutors declined comment.

The defense filing – including an exhibit stamped “Restricted: Do Not Disseminate” -- was removed from the court’s public docket after a few hours.

Zarrab testified last week that he decided to cooperate with prosecutors because it was “the fastest way…to get out of jail at once.” His testimony will resume on Tuesday.

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