Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag says Washington has told Ankara that jailed Turkish-Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab — a gold trader who is awaiting trial in the United States on charges of evading U.S. sanctions against Iran — is in good medical condition.
Bozdag made the remarks on November 16, a day after Turkey announced it had sent a diplomatic note to U.S. authorities inquiring about Zarrab.
The U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons website last week listed Zarrab, 34, as having been released from prison on November 8. But U.S. prosecutors said that posting was an error and he remained in jail.
Turkish leaders have pressed repeatedly for the release of Zarrab, who has close ties to the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Erdogan and other Turkish leaders have raised the issue directly with the White House.
Media reports last week said U.S. special prosecutor Robert Mueller is investigating whether Turkish officials discussed paying former national security adviser Michael Flynn $15 million to secure Zarrab’s release and to allow the deportation of Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric residing in the United States who Erdogan accuses of engineering Turkey’s failed July 2016 coup.
Zarrab, taken into U.S. custody in March 2016, has hired former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani to negotiate with U.S. authorities to try to obtain his release through political and diplomatic channels.
A spokesman for acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim in Manhattan confirmed on November 14 that Zarrab remained in federal custody in the United States.
“The information that Zarrab was released is not factual,” Zarrab’s lawyer Seyda Yildirim told Turkey’s Hurriyet newspaper on November 15.
“He might have been moved to a different section. We haven’t been informed in five days,” Yildirim said.
Hurriyet quoted a diplomatic source as saying that Turkey, in its formal diplomatic note, had asked U.S. authorities to make clear where Zarrab was being held and to give assurances about his health and security.
Zarrab has pleaded not guilty to the Iran sanctions evasion charges against him and a co-defendant, Mehmet Hakan Atilla, an executive at the Turkish lender Halkbank. Their trial is due start in New York on November 27.
Erdogan has accused U.S. prosecutors of having “ulterior motives” in the case by including references to him and his wife in court papers.
Zarrab, a wealthy businessman who is married to a well-known Turkish pop singer, was linked to a corruption scandal that swirled around Erdogan and his deputies when Erdogan was Turkish prime minister in 2013.
Zarrab spent 70 days in custody in Turkey at the time, but all suspects arrested in the judicial probe were subsequently released. Erdogan at the time denounced the allegations as a plot by Gulen to bring down his government.