Defense lawyers of a senior bank official, who appears as the only defendant in a Manhattan courtroom on charges of engineering and coordinating a scheme to bust U.S. sanctions against Iran, questioned credibility of gold trader Reza Zarrab, the government’s star witness, and accused the prosecution of failing to provide all exculpatory material that could help the defense.
Lawyers of Mehmet Hakan Atilla, deputy General Manager of Halkbank, wrote a letter to Judge Richard Berman, saying that they discovered a conversation in jailhouse phone records of Mr. Zarrab that shows the gold trader was considering to lie to prosecutors to get out of the jail even before he became the witness.
The revelation came on Monday as the Turkish-Iranian businessman continued to testify in the sanctions trial, which has become a constant irritant in the Turkish-U.S. relations.
The defense team said the prosecutors failed to deliver Mr. Zarrab’s phone records on time. In one phone call, Mr. Zarrab says “you need to admit to crimes you haven’t committed” to get out of the prison.
NEW: While Zarrab is testifying, Atilla's lawyers file papers saying government failed to meet court deadlines, and was late in giving them recordings of Zarrab's Turkish-language phone calls. They say that it looks like in those phone calls, Zarrab was willing to lie to get out: pic.twitter.com/JAXItPpekZ
— Katie Zavadski (@katiezavadski) December 4, 2017
Last week, Mr. Zarrab told the judge that he chose to cooperate with prosecutors because it was the fastest way to accept responsibility and to get out of jail.
The defense accused the prosecution of withholding five audio recordings despite a deadline set by the judge passed.
In order to obtain a reduced sentence, the defense lawyers argued, Mr. Zarrab showed a willingness to fabricate testimony. The new revelation could seriously damage Mr. Zarrab’s status as a “star witness” in the case.
The defense’s filing which was titled as “Subject to Protective Order” was mistakenly made public and briefly became visible to journalists.
From the start of the trial last week, Mr. Atilla’s lawyers cast Mr. Zarrab as “a liar, a cheat, a corrupter of men … a one-man crime wave.”
On Monday, the Turkish-Iran businessman who has so far implicated then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan other senior government members in sanctions-evasion scheme continued to testify against Mr. Atilla.
Mr. Zarrab became a witness on Oct. 26 in a secret court hearing. When asked by prosecutors whether he was ever arrested in Turkey, he said he was sent to jail as part of the corruption investigation in 2013.
He bribed judges to secure his release, he told the court. As soon as he was released, Mr. Zarrab immediately tried to revive his gold trade business with Halkbank and met with the new manager to discuss it after Suleyman Aslan was removed from his post.
His testimony portrayed Mr. Atilla as someone who discovered the loopholes in U.S. sanctions against Iran and orchestrated the whole evasion scheme through the gold-for-oil arrangement with Iran. Mr. Atilla, according to the gold trader’s testimony, appears to be the key architect behind the scheme who coordinated and spearheaded both gold trade and fake food trade to help Mr. Zarrab.