Zarrab's Turkish Lawyer Implicated in N.Y. Prison-Bribe Plot

(Bloomberg) -- A Turkish attorney representing gold trader Reza Zarrab allegedly helped pay bribes to a jail guard in Manhattan while her client was being held on charges involving a conspiracy to help Iran evade U.S. economic sanctions.

U.S. prosecutors on Thursday charged Victor Casado, who’s worked at the Metropolitan Correctional Center since 2012, accusing him of taking more than $45,000 from a cooperator’s lawyer in exchange for contraband, including alcohol and cell phones. The bribes were typically paid in cash through a female attorney who traveled regularly to the U.S., they said. The lawyer wasn’t identified in court papers.

“The attorney alleged to be involved was a Turkish attorney who was visiting the U.S. to assist Zarrab,” Ben Brafman, Zarrab’s U.S. lawyer, said in an email. “None of his U.S. attorneys were involved or even aware of the transaction.” Brafman declined to comment further.

Zarrab testified at the trial of Mehmet Hakan Atilla, who headed international banking at Turkish state-owned banking giant Turkiye Halk Bankasi AS, that he paid bribes to a jail guard. Atilla was convicted of Iran-sanctions violations and is awaiting sentencing. Prosecutors are seeking a punishment of more than 15 years in prison. Zarrab is also awaiting sentencing.

The former gold trader lived a gilded life in Turkey, with a private plane, a yacht, a waterside mansion in Istanbul and a Turkish pop-star wife. He was accused of using his network of companies to move money through the U.S. financial system on behalf of Iran and related companies, to help them evade sanctions when the U.S. was stepping up economic pressure on the country in retaliation for its nuclear ambition.

He was held at the MCC from 2016 through the middle of 2017. It was at that time that Casado allegedly smuggled the contraband to Zarrab, who is identified only as Inmate-1 in the government filing. The items also included Vitamin C, over-the-counter pain medication, DayQuil and food, according to the government.

Casado, 35, appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Henry Pitman in Manhattan Thursday. He must put up a $200,000 bond, secured by the equity in his home and co-signed by three financially responsible people including his mother, in order to be released. His attorney, John Diaz, declined to comment outside court.

As Zarrab’s case neared trial in Manhattan in 2017, he fell off the radar, disappearing from the inmate registry for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. He also stopped participating in his defense. He reappeared in November when a cooperation agreement with U.S. prosecutors against Atilla was disclosed.

The case also took a bizarre turn when Zarrab was sued during the course of his testimony by a fellow inmate who accused him of rape. A lawyer for Zarrab denied the allegation. Zarrab was recently being held in Westchester County jail.

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