Turkish-Iranian tycoon Reza Zarrab will not stand trial in New York for allegedly defying sanctions on Iran, a U.S. judge confirmed Monday at the start of jury selection.
Reza Zarrab, 34, stopped appearing in court in the two months leading up to his scheduled trial, prompting Turkey's prime minister to suggest he has reached a plea deal with U.S. authorities.
U.S. District Judge Richard Berman told the start of jury selection in a federal court in Manhattan that Turkish banker Mehmet Hakan Atilla would be the only defendant in what is expected to be a three to four-week trial.
Zarrab and eight other people, including Turkey's former economy minister and three executives of Turkish state-owned Halkbank, have been charged with engaging in transactions worth hundreds of millions of dollars for Iran's government and Iranian entities from 2010 to 2015 in a scheme to evade U.S. sanctions. The prosecutors said the defendants worked to supply gold and currency to Iran and Iranian entities, in violation of the sanctions, sometimes disguising transactions as purchases of food.
Only Zarrab and Mehmet Hakan Atilla, one of the Halkbank executives, have been arrested by U.S. authorities.
The trial will begin as soon as a jury is chosen, and is expected to last three to four weeks, Reuters reported.
The case is acutely sensitive in Turkey in part because the prosecutors say Turkey's former economy minister, Zafer Cağlayan, was involved in the alleged conspiracy. Prosecutors said in a court filing four weeks ago that Zarrab once told another defendant he had spoken with Erdoğan directly about the alleged scheme, according to Reuters.
Zarrab was arrested by U.S. authorities in Miami in March 2016 on charges of helping Iran process millions of dollars of transactions when it was under U.S. sanctions for its nuclear program. The case threatens to reopen a case that reached right into Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s inner circle. It will also deepen existing tensions between Turkey and the United States. Zarrab was detained and charged in İstanbul in 2013 in a huge corruption case. All charges against Zarrab and those linked to Erdoğan's government were dropped.