US opposes $50 million bail for Turkish-Iranian gold trader

Reza Zarrab is charged with helping Iranian individuals and entities evade US sanctions by conducting transactions through companies abroad

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US prosecutors on Wednesday opposed a Turkish-Iranian gold trader's request to be released on bail while he awaits trial for conspiring to violate US sanctions against Iran, saying his vast wealth makes him a flight risk.

Reza Zarrab has been in US custody since his arrest in Miami in March on charges that he conspired to conduct hundreds of millions of dollars in financial transactions to help the Iranian government or other entities evade US sanctions.

His lawyers last week asked a federal judge in Manhattan to release Zarrab on a $50 million bond and place him under house arrest. Prosecutors disputed their claim that that would be more than sufficient to assure his appearance in court.

"Zarrab's proposed bail conditions are an attempt to use his tremendous wealth to obscure the flight risk through a façade of security that is beyond the reach of all but a small subset of fabulously wealthy defendants," prosecutors wrote in court documents.

Prosecutors said Zarrab, a dual citizen of Turkey and his native Iran, had already misled officials about his assets, which they said include businesses with billions of dollars in annual transactions, and several homes and yachts.

Prosecutors also said Zarrab has used his wealth to buy access to corrupt politicians in Turkey, pointing to his 2013 arrest in that country on charges that he bribed high-level officials to facilitate transactions benefiting Iran.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, then prime minister who US prosecutors said has "close ties" to Zarrab, cast the case as a coup attempt orchestrated by his political enemies.

Several prosecutors were removed from the case, police investigators reassigned, and the investigation was dropped.

A lawyer for Zarrab declined to comment.

Zarrab, 33, in April pleaded not guilty after being charged in an indictment along with one of his employees, Kamelia Jamshidy, and Hossein Najafzadeh, a senior officer at a unit of Bank Mellat in Iran. The other two Iranians remain at large.

Prosecutors said that from 2010 to 2015, the trio helped Iranian individuals and entities evade US sanctions by conducting financial transactions through companies in Turkey and in the United Arab Emirates owned and operated by Zarrab.

Zarrab's arrest came two months after world powers, led by the United States and the European Union, lifted crippling sanctions against Iran in return for curbs on its nuclear ambitions.