New developments in the case of a Turkish gold trader facing trial in New York could further chill relations between the U.S. and Turkey.
Reza Zarrab, the 33-year-old defendant, appears poised to plead guilty to federal charges that he conspired to violate U.S. sanctions on Iran, The New York Times reports.
Zarrab is set to go to trial later this month along with Mehmet Hakan Atilla, an executive at Halkbank, a bank controlled by the Turkish government. Federal prosecutors allege that Zarrab and Halkbank executives conspired to get around sanctions against Iran in a gold-for-oil scheme.
Zarrab was arrested in Florida in March 2016 while on vacation with his family.
The case has been an obsession of Turkey’s authoritarian president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He has pressed Presidents Trump and Obama to release Zarrab and threatened to escalate tensions between the U.S. and Turkey.
Some analysts believe that Erdogan is so heavily involved in the case because Zarrab possesses information that would be embarrassing to Erdogan and his family.
According to The Times, recent court filings and actions by Zarrab’s attorneys suggest that a plea deal is in the works.
In court papers filed on Monday, lawyers for Atilla stated that it was “likely that Mr. Atilla will be the only defendant appearing at trial” and that Zarrab “has essentially not participated in the case” since September.
Zarrab’s attorneys also failed to file a routine challenge to the admissibility of the government’s evidence in the case. The lawyers also did not provide the court a list of jury questions for prospective jurors for the Nov. 27 trial.
A possible plea would raise the possibility that Zarrab would cooperate with federal prosecutors, a scenario which would likely infuriate Erdogan.
Zarrab was represented earlier this year by former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, a confidante of President Trump’s. The hiring of Giuliani generated concern from Richard M. Berman, a judge in the Southern District of New York, because of his ties to Trump and his law firm’s past work for the Turkish government.