NEW YORK (AP) — The U.S. government illegally gained access to a Turkish businessman's iPhone and computer when he was arrested at a Florida airport in the spring, defense lawyers argued Wednesday as they asked a federal judge in New York to toss out the evidence and charges against him.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Lockard responded to the cellphone argument by one of defendant Reza Zarrab's lawyers by saying it was a "perfectly legitimate" practice by U.S. Customs agents at airports to request passcodes. He said it enables agents, for example, to know if somebody has an Islamic State flag as a screensaver.
He said it happens regularly, "in the same way if you're carrying locked luggage, you might be asked for the keys to your luggage."
Defense attorney Ben Brafman disputed the claim that it was common practice and said U.S. District Judge Richard Berman should hold a hearing to hear government agents testify about common practices and how the arrest unfolded for Zarrab, a well-known personality in Turkey partly because he's married to Turkish pop star and TV personality Ebru Gundes.
"I think Mr. Lockard is dead wrong," Brafman said. "I think the facts here scream out for suppression."
Berman did not immediately rule after hearing the lawyers discuss the merits of an indictment charging Zarrab with conspiring to process hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of financial transactions for Iranian businesses or Iran's government. Authorities say those transactions are banned by U.S. and international sanctions.
Zarrab, 33, a resident of Turkey, has been held without bail since his March 19 arrest in Miami. In 2013, Zarrab was arrested in a Turkish government corruption case. He maintained his innocence, and the charges were dropped.
Defense attorney Paul Clement argued that the U.S. government overreached with the prosecution, applying laws that were not intended to ban transactions carried out by a non-U.S. citizen in Turkey.
He called the prosecution unprecedented and a "radical expansion" of the law. Lockard disagreed.
Prosecutors say the conspirators, including Zarrab and two others, used a network of companies in Iran, Turkey and elsewhere to launder the proceeds and defraud several financial institutions, including U.S. banks, by concealing the true nature of the financial moves. Zarrab's co-defendants remain at large. Prosecutors say evidence in the case includes thousands of pages of bank, email and phone records.