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Impressions from Zarrab’s courtroom, thoughts on political interference in a federal criminal process

Photo: Sözcü

By Ilhan Tanır, Washington DC

The US vs. Zarrab case, watched closely by the Turkish public, became even more intriguing following the arrest of Halkbank Deputy GM Mehmet Hakan Atilla in March. Interest to the Zarrab case is also growing in the US media. Rudy Giuliani, ex-mayor of NYC, sounded disheartened of this media attention reflected in his affidavit explaining his role in the case. Giuliani complained in his affidavit that there had been too many leaks in the US media regarding the Zarrab case.

Mr. Zarrab is accused of facilitating hundreds of millions of dollars in transactions on behalf of the Iranian government, businesses, and other sanctioned entities through the use of false documents and shell companies to evade US sanctions and pleaded not guilty. US authorities say those transactions are a breach of U.S. and international sanctions.

Giuliani who had a meeting with Turkish President Erdogan in Ankara late February did not want this leaked to the press. Giuliani, who informed former US Attorney of SDNY Preet Bharara about his visit to Ankara, was aware that the news of this meeting would not be helpful for “ the deal” he was trying to clinch. As the saying goes: “Lobbying is like making love in the dark. As soon as headlights are turned on to you, it ends”. The negotiation Giuliani has been trying to arrange between Trump and Erdogan is “lobbying” regardless of him calling it “diplomacy.” And now the whole US media attention is focused on the case.

Political interference in a federal criminal process is a serious matter

Political interference in a federal criminal process is a very serious matter and would probably lead to some serious scandals in the US institutions. As in the ‘Saturday Night Massacre,’ during Richard Nixon presidency, institutional resistance to any politically-driven interference in the Zarrab & Attila prosecutions, both within DOJ and the federal judiciary, would be intense, according to experts who talked to Washington Hatti. According to same jurist experts who have consulted on the case within some US institutions in recent weeks, ”the institutional taboo against political interference is so strong that even a close Trump ally like Attorney General Jeff Sessions would probably refuse a WH demand to dismiss the indictments.” (More on the reactions from the US institutions and potential results will come as another post soon.)

And the whole world has learned that the Turkish president is trying to interfere with the case and take the lead -if possible- through the news of his meeting with Giuliani. Giuliani who is ‘still’ the cyber security advisor to President Trump, is involved in this case as an attorney against the the administration he is advising(!).

This means that the highest political figures of two countries have been linked to this judicial process. Many have difficulty understanding political interference to a criminal investigation.

Zarrab seems pleased

During the hearing on Tuesday, May 2nd, Zarrab gave the impression he was satisfied with the involvement of Turkish Government. By waiving all possible conflict of interests during the trial, he was acting very sure of the Turkish government’s intentions without any hesitation.

It was almost like Zarrab was saying “Erdogan Government must save me. Otherwise, I have alternatives.”

If Zarrab chooses to cooperate with the US prosecutors, his sentence would be lighter in exchange of giving substantial information that the US authorities did not have regarding the sanctions busting scheme. Though if he chooses to talk, some others might get in trouble with US justice.

Another significant moment at the hearing came when Zarrab was asked whether he or his associates had ever done business with US or Turkish government officials. His attorney, in a shocking admission, conceded this was possible. The reason for this admission may lie in Zarrab’s emails, which the earlier it was admitted by the prosecution that Zarrab’s ‘hotmail’ account has been under FBI surveillance since September 2014. If this is the case, it is reasonable to assume that the FBI would be aware of which Turkish authorities Zarrab has been in contact with since that time. A hearing to determine whether Zarrab’s emails will be admitted into evidence is scheduled for May 18.

‘Everything will be all right.’

Beside all these, in the trial room, some Turkish officials were trying to cheer up Halkbank Deputy GM Atilla. It looked like it was a reflection of the ‘this issue will be solved soon’ mood in Ankara. Moreover, the Turkish attorney for Zarrab gave up her recent habit of not making any statements to the press and happily told the reporters that Zarrab and famous Turkish pop singer Ebru Gundes are not getting a divorce. ”That case is completely closed” the Turkish attorney said.

This optimism started right after Giuliani and Mukasey were hired as attorneys for the case.

Giuliani did not meet Zarrab personally

Zarrab’s attorney, Brafman, said that Rudolph Giuliani did not meet with Zarrab personally yet Mr. Mukasey did. That was probably to clearly state that Giuliani did not have any ‘secret meetings’ with Zarrab, considering the growing disapproval of the public regarding these negotiations after Giuliani’s meeting with Erdogan leaked to the press.

Next session is on May 11th.

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