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Officials tight-lipped, but Zarrab trial is the talk of the town in Washington

Ilhan Tanir, Washington DC

U.S. State Department officials, either because they are cut off from the case or because they cannot predict what will happen, have declined to comment on the case of Reza Zarrab, the Iranian-Turkish gold trader due to go on trial in New York in November accused of shipping bullion to Iran in return for sanctions-busting oil.

Zarrab was arrested in Miami in March 2016 as he arrived for a holiday with his family and charged with four counts, including money laundering and running an alleged racket to help Iran bypass U.S. sanctions imposed over its nuclear programme. According to U.S. prosecutors, the scheme involved ministers of the government of then prime minister and now President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

A superseding indictment in early September was expanded to include Erdoğan’s close ally and Economy Minister Zafer Cağlayan, as well as the former head and deputy head of Halkbank, Turkey’s largest state-owned bank. Erdoğan has been angrily demanding Zarrab’s release for more than a year.

It is important to note that U.S. State Department officials have asked about Zarrab in different circles in Washington, according to reliable Western diplomatic sources who participated in the meetings. Zarrab has become the top topic during various panel discussions on Turkey in Washington; for example at an event hosted this week by the Republican think-tank, Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Ten minutes before the September indictment

When questioned, U.S. officials say how removed they are from the Zarrab case and point out the State Department was notified only 10 minutes before Cağlayan and former Halkbank CEO Süleyman Aslan were added to the indictment as defendants in early September. And they add that State Department officials spent those 10 minutes hurriedly preparing for potential questions.

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