U.S. prosecutors have opposed a wealthy gold trader's request to be released on bail while he awaits trial for violating U.S. sanctions against Iran, saying his "immense" resources makes him a flight risk.
Iranian-born gold trader Reza Zarrab
Describing Reza Zarrab as a "sophisticated, well-connected, international businessman with immense wealth and influence," prosecutors argued before a New York judge on May 25 that he might use his "tremendous wealth" to flee the United States.
Zarrab has been in U.S. 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 and Iranian individuals evade U.S. sanctions.
If convicted, Zarrab, a dual citizen of Turkey and his native Iran who is a celebrity married to Turkish pop star Ebru Gundes, faces the possibility of decades in prison.
His lawyers last week asked the Manhattan court to release Zarrab on a $50 million bond and place him under house arrest. But prosecutors disputed their claim that those constraints would assure his appearance in court.
With no ties to the United States, prosecutors said Zarrab had "significant incentive and ability to flee," using his substantial family and business contacts abroad and passports from three countries that enable him to easily travel to places where he cannot be extradited.
Zarrab, 33, who was carrying $103,000 in cash when he was arrested, has a Macedonian passport as well as passports from Iran and Turkey.
The government said Zarrab's commercial ventures generate over $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.
An employee traveling with Zarrab at the time of his arrest claimed to be overseeing construction of a yacht longer than a football field for Zarrab.
Prosecutors said that Zarrab had used his wealth previously 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.
Zarrab was later freed after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who U.S. prosecutors said had "close ties" to Zarrab, cast the case as a coup attempt orchestrated by his political enemies.
In the U.S. case in April, Zarrab pleaded not guilty after being charged along with an employee, Kamelia Jamshidy, and a senior officer at a unit of Iran's Bank Mellat, Hossein Najafzadeh. The other two defendants, both Iranians, remain at large.
Prosecutors said that from 2010 to 2015, the trio helped Iranian individuals and entities evade U.S. sanctions by conducting financial transactions through companies in Turkey and the United Arab Emirates that were owned and operated by Zarrab.
Prosecutors claim to have overwhelming evidence, including voluminous email communications, business records, and financial evidence showing that Zarrab used a web of businesses to evade U.S. sanctions.
Zarrab's arrest emerged two months after the United States and other world powers lifted nuclear-related sanctions against Iran in return for curbs on its nuclear ambitions.
With reporting by Reuters and AP
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