Reza Zarrab: from an accused, a witness


Originally published in the Greek weekly newspaper “Paraskinio”, issue 609, p. 47, on Dec. 16, 2017

For nearly two months, Washington is examining the case of Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab about his role in breaking the economic embargo imposed by Washington and the United Nations on Iran for its nuclear program. But the details of the case are still unclear. The first information after his arrest confirmed that he is guilty, but the latest information says the US government treats him as a witness against Turkish government partners to deal with Iran during the embargo period. History has more political implications and is not an internal American issue.

Reza Zarrab was born in Iran by a famous business family. He lived and studied in Turkey. After his graduation from university, he began to work individually in the field of commerce. Over time, Zarrab has earned millions of dollars. When Washington imposed an economic embargo on Iran, most of its activities were transferred from Iran to Turkey. With his experience in the Turkish business arena, Zarrab managed to win the trust of Turkish businessmen and officials. The reputation of his family in Iran has made it easier for him to communicate with important Iranian leaders. His interconnections helped him break the Tehran embargo, undertook to sell Iranian gold to Turkey in dollars that Iran used to buy food, drug-related military equipment. In a few years, Zarrab won huge sums of money partially invested in construction projects in the UAE. With the signing of the five countries of the nuclear agreement with Iran and the gradual lifting of the economic blockade, Zarrab returned to his operations in the UAE, whose government began to control his financial transactions. Control was continued by the CIA, which in turn managed to gather enough evidence to confirm its involvement in breaking the Iranian embargo. Based on information, Zarrab was arrested in the UAE and transferred to Washington to be interrogated and prosecuted.

Yes, all the information coming from Washington confirms the accusations against him, but the issue has become more political. Turkey has asked the US to hand him over as a Turkish citizen and has dismissed all charges against him. Ankara then returned to Washington asking for handing him over in order to prosecute him. As a Western diplomatic source assured me, the Turkish State Bank, Halk, has concurred with Zarrab to bypass the Iranian embargo, and Turkish government officials have facilitated this process.

Washington’s legal evidence of this case would initially lead to a $ 25 billion fine imposed on the Turkish Halk Bank, which could lead to its collapse. It will also impose on it financial sanctions to end its future. Washington will finally list Turkish officials, even senior officials, who have contributed to the circumvention of international sanctions against Iran and is expected to include former ministers. The most dangerous thing is that some sources mention the name of the Turkish president as part of the Zarrab research, which may put him at the forefront of American justice.

US-Turkey relations are not at their best, especially after the failed coup attempt, for which Ankara blames the organization of Fethullah Gülen and Western countries as well. Following this attempt, Ankara arrested tens of thousands of suspects, including an American priest who was in Izmir during the coup. A well-informed source told me that Trump, in a meeting with Erdoğan in New York at the United Nations General Assembly, asked him to hand over the priest. Erdoğan has asked for Gülen to be handed over in return. This meeting increased the tension between the two countries and was followed by the arrest of Turkish officials working at the US Embassy in Ankara. In this way, in my view, Washington can use the Zarrab case to force Ankara to hand over the pastor in exchange for no further sharpening the case.

Turkey is not the only country that broke the international financial embargo on Iran. There are many countries that wash out Iranian capital and buy Iranian gas and oil. However, the Zarrab case is more political than judicial. Turkey has either to succumb to US demands or to face a storm that can aggravate domestic and international conditions.