At least 17 suspects have been detained in Turkey as part of the investigation carried out by Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office in a probe into Reza Zarrab, a key witness in a U.S. case, where the Turkish-Iranian businessman has been raising claims of paying bribes in Turkey to by-pass Washignton sanctions on Tehran.
Detentions came after the prosecutor’s office on Dec. 1 ordered the seizure of assets belonging to Zarrab and his acquaintances.
One of the reasons for the seizure was that “the procurement of information should stay secret for the security, internal and foreign political interests of the Republic of Turkey, and to protect the country from the political and military espionage practices of foreign countries.”
The prosecutor’s office then expanded its investigation and people with links to Zarrab were detained.
Seven of Zarrab’s aides who are crucial for the investigation – including Sinem Arslan, Regaip Akol, Mustafa Hacısalihoğlu, Nuray Y. and Sara M. – were taken in for questioning.
Zarrab’s collection of secret texts, dubbed the “black box,” is reportedly known to Arslan and his assistant, while Akol is accused of managing Zarrab’s financial transactions.
Akol, Arslan and Hacısalihoğlu are accused of trying to send documents to the court in the U.S., in addition to “partially or completely destroying, damaging or stealing documents and records regarding the state’s security or its domestic and foreign political benefits, as well as using them outside their purpose and committing forgery over them.”
Documents were burned in an attempt to destroy evidence in a building that allegedly belongs to one of Zarrab’s relatives, daily Habertürk reported yesterday.
A part of the documents were saved by police, and security guards in the building said the building belongs to Zarrab.
‘Lying for freedom’
Zarrab, meanwhile, said “you need to admit to crimes you haven’t committed” to get a reduced sentence in the United States, according to a newly-emerged summary of a phone call made while he was in jail.
Defense lawyers said the new evidence in the New York trial of former Halkbank deputy general manager Mehmet Hakan Atilla over violations of U.S. sanctions shows Zarrab saying that it is necessary to admit crimes that never occurred to get out of prison.
Lawyers for Atilla complained to U.S. District Judge Richard Berman that the prosecutors waited too long to release the evidence from Zarrab, who pleaded guilty weeks ago and was in his fourth day of testimony on Dec. 4.
The lawyers also said prosecutors improperly delayed turning over evidence that could help their client until late on Dec. 2, making them scramble to prepare for their cross-examination of Zarrab.
They said the evidence included a summary of a Sept. 15, 2016 call between Zarrab, then held in a U.S. jail, and an individual identified only as Ahad. In the call summary, Zarrab told Ahad that “you need to admit to crimes you haven’t committed” to get a reduced sentence in the U.S.
The letter was later removed from online court records without explanation. Atilla’s lawyers said the call showed that
Zarrab was willing to lie in exchange for leniency.
Zarrab was arrested in the U.S. last year but as he became the prosecution’s top witness in the trial, Atilla is now the sole man in the dock accused of violating sanctions, bribery and money laundering.