Iran-born Turkish trader seeks $50 mln bail in US sanctions case

Reza Zarrab was arrested in 2013 on charges that he bribed officials to facilitate transactions benefiting Iran

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A lawyer for a wealthy Iranian-born Turkish gold trader accused of conspiring to violate U.S. sanctions against Iran urged a U.S. judge on Thursday to release his client from jail on a $50 million bond and to place him under house arrest.

Benjamin Brafman, a lawyer for Reza Zarrab, told a Manhattan federal judge that his client posed no risk of fleeing if he was allowed to reside before trial at a 15-floor apartment under 24-hour watch by armed guards paid for at his personal cost.

"He has every incentive to clear his name," Brafman said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Lockard countered that Zarrab if released could use his wealth to flee the country, and urged U.S. District Judge Richard Berman to not allow him to hire guards who would become "jailers being paid by the inmate."

But Brafman noted other well-off defendants have been granted similar house arrest arrangements with private guards. Those include convicted Ponzi schemer Bernard Madoff, Macau billionaire Ng Lap Seng, and New York lawyer Marc Dreier.

While Brafman acknowledged low-income individuals could not afford to seek similar arrangements, that is "not something that is Mr. Zarrab's fault, nor is it something we're going to solve today."

Berman said he would rule in one or two weeks on whether to grant bail to Zarrab, 33, who has been in custody since his arrest in Miami in March on a family trip to Disney World.

Prosecutors said from 2010 to 2015, Zarrab and two others engaged in hundreds of millions of dollars of transactions on behalf of Iran's government and Iranian entities in a scheme to evade U.S. sanctions.

Zarrab's case has garnered headlines in Turkey, where he was arrested in 2013 along with several members of the government on charges that he bribed officials to facilitate transactions benefiting Iran.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, then prime minister, 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.

In arguing against bail, U.S. prosecutors said the Turkish case showed the lengths Zarrab would go to free himself "by causing the wholesale reorganization of the Turkish prosecutor's office and police department through bribery."

Prosecutors said Zarrab's tremendous resources also make him a flight risk, citing his ownership of businesses that generate $11 billion annually, an airplane, several homes and yachts.

The case is U.S. v. Zarrab, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 15-cr-867.

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