The İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office on Saturday launched a criminal investigation into Joon Hyun Kim, acting US attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Preet Bharara, the former US attorney who was in charge of the case of jailed Iranian-Turkish gold trader Reza Zarrab, and other attorneys over evidence used in the trial of Turkish citizens, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.
Zarrab and Turkey’s Halkbank Deputy General Manager Mehmet Hakan Atilla were arrested in the US for conspiring to violate US sanctions on Iran. The US District Court for the Southern District of New York on Sept. 6 also indicted former Turkish Economy Minister Mehmet Zafer Çağlayan, former Halkbank General Manager Süleyman Aslan, Levent Bakkal and Abdullah Happani and ordered arrest warrants for them.
According to a press statement released by the Istanbul Public Prosecutor’s Office, Turkish prosecutors have “launched an investigation into how documents and evidence that were claimed to be stolen, fake and without a source by lawyer Cathy Fleming in court on Oct. 30 were obtained and content of those documents and pieces of evidence.”
Noting that the documents and evidence were not provided by the Turkish Justice Ministry, the statement went on to say, “In this context, due to actions that contradict international and Turkish law, in accordance with the relevant articles of the Turkish Penal Code, an investigation has been launched into Preet Bharara, the former US attorney for the Southern District of New York, Joon Hyun Kim, the acting US attorney, and other prosecutor’s office staff.”
Ahead of the start of the trial on Nov. 27, Turkish media close to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recently claimed that the evidence in the case of Turkish citizens in New York was illegally transferred from Turkey.
Zarrab was the prime suspect in a major corruption investigation in Turkey that became public in December 2013 in which with others from the inner circle of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government and then-Prime Minister Erdoğan for having paid Cabinet-level officials and bank officers bribes to facilitate transactions benefiting Iran.
After Erdoğan cast the case as a coup attempt to overthrow his government orchestrated by his political enemies, several prosecutors were removed from the case, police were reassigned and the investigation against Zarrab was dropped.
News published in the US media that Zarrab, arrested in Miami in March 2016, could have pled guilty, rang alarm bells in Ankara. The Turkish government issued a diplomatic note last week urging the US to notify Turkish authorities before relocating Zarrab to another facility.
According to the state-run Anadolu news agency, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said Turkey sent two notices to US authorities after Zarrab’s lawyers were unable to reach him.
President Erdoğan on Oct. 24 strongly criticized the US administration for allegedly trying to force Zarrab to give them names from the Turkish government, saying he would explain all the details.
“They are driving him [Zarrab] into a corner, trying to make him an informer by saying, ‘If you mention those names, it [your prison term] will be this long, if you mention those names it will be that long’,” Erdoğan said, adding: “We are following this. We know how to set the world on fire when all those issues are done. We will tell all.”
Erdoğan demanded the release of Zarrab as well as the firing of then-US Attorney Bharara during a private meeting with then-US Vice President Joe Biden on Sept. 21, 2016, devoting half the 90-minute conversation to Zarrab, David Ignatius wrote for The Washington Post on Oct. 12.
“Erdogan’s campaign to free Zarrab has been extraordinary. He demanded his release as well as the firing of Bharara in a private meeting with then-Vice President Joe Biden on Sept. 21, 2016, in which U.S. officials say half the 90-minute conversation was devoted to Zarrab,” Ignatius wrote.
“Erdogan’s wife [Emine Erdoğan] pleaded the case that night to Jill Biden [wife of Biden]. Turkey’s then-justice minister, Bekir Bozdag, visited then-Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch in October to argue that the case was ‘based on no evidence’ and that Zarrab should be released.”
According to former aides, “Erdoğan appealed personally about the matter in his last two phone calls with President Barack Obama, in December and early January.
“Our operating assumption was that Erdoğan’s obsession with the case was that if it moved forward, information would come out that would damage his family, and ultimately him,” said one former senior Obama official, Ignatius noted.