Feds say Turkish celebrity who faces prison is a flight risk

AP News
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Posted: May 25, 2016 9:02 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — A Turkish celebrity who lived the high life as he enabled Iran to overcome U.S. sanctions and deceive the United States and the international banking system for years is a flight risk and shouldn't get bail, prosecutors said Wednesday.

In papers filed in Manhattan federal court, prosecutors said Reza Zarrab, 32, had vast assets that could be used to flee to avoid the likely decades in prison he will face if convicted of criminal charges that resulted in his March arrest in Miami.

Zarrab's commercial ventures generate more than $11 billion annually, and his assets include 20 properties, six horses, 17 luxury cars, seven yachts, a private plane and more than $10 million in artwork, the government said. An employee traveling with Zarrab at the time of his arrest claimed to be overseeing construction for Zarrab of a yacht longer than a football field with three personal submersibles, prosecutors said.

The papers were filed in advance of a bail hearing next week. Defense attorney Benjamin Brafman, asked to comment, said in an email, "We intend to file a vigorous formal Reply that will address all of the issues raised by the govt."

Zarrab is well known in Turkey, partly because he's married to Turkish pop star and TV personality Ebru Gundes. In 2013, Zarrab was arrested in a Turkish government corruption case. He maintained his innocence, and the charges were dropped.

In arguing against bail, prosecutors described Zarrab as a "sophisticated, well-connected, international businessman with immense wealth and influence."

They said he is charged with aiding Iran in its deception of the United States and the international banking system from 2010 to 2015, enabling millions of dollars to pass through. Other charges include bank fraud and money laundering.

With no ties to the United States, Zarrab has "significant incentive and ability to flee," using enormous resources including substantial family and business contacts abroad and passports from three countries that enable him to easily travel to countries from where he cannot be extradited, prosecutors said.

They said overwhelming evidence includes voluminous email communications, business records and financial evidence showing he used a web of businesses to evade U.S. sanctions by making it seem certain financial transactions were on behalf of companies in Turkey or the United Arab Emirates.

As a citizen of Iran and Turkey, Zarrab is alleged by Turkish authorities to have used his wealth and influence to secure his release from Turkish prison, the government said.

After his arrest in Miami, Zarrab, who had $103,000 in cash, minimized his international travel and assets and claimed he had only a passport from Turkey even though he also had passports from Iran and Macedonia.

They said he claimed he had annual income of about $720,000 even though he has said publicly that he generates over $11 billion in annual exports, including about $3.5 billion in gold exports.

"The defendant has used his tremendous wealth not only to purchase several homes, yachts, and other assets, but also to buy access to corrupt politicians in Turkey," prosecutors said.