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Gold trader Reza Zarrab consulted mystics about sanctions trial

Reza Zarrab reportedly wanted to know what fortune tellers thought about the case and whether he could move to Dubai if he cooperated.
Image: Reza Zarrab
Businessman Reza Zarrab is surrounded by journalists as he arrives at a police center in Istanbul on Dec. 17, 2013.Ozan Kose / AFP - Getty Images file

A gold trader jailed in the U.S. asked an associate to consult with fortune tellers about cooperating with prosecutors in a trial over sanctions against Iran, Turkish media reported Monday.

The reports were based on papers seized by associates of the trader, Reza Zarrab, who was the lead defendant in the internationally sensitive case until he turned star government witness against a Turkish bank executive.

The associate said in a letter that she met with mystics at Zarrab's request, according to Hurriyet Daily News. Among the advice given: "Wrong choices [made] under claustrophobia" and "the government may not protect."

Reza Zarrab, seen here in 2013, is back on the stand this week.Sebnem Coskun / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images File

Whatever the fortune tellers thought, Zarrab cut a deal with New York prosecutors and pleaded guilty to seven counts of money-laundering, conspiracy and other crimes.

In a letter to U.S. District Judge Richard Berman filed Monday, lawyers for the bank executive on trial said a trove of material turned over by prosecutors included a recording of Zarrab in prison last year saying that to get a plea deal, you need to lie.

"[I]n America in order to make it out of prison you need to admit to something you haven’t committed,” Zarrab said, according to a translated summary of the tape cited by the defense team, which complained the material was handed over late.

The letter, which was posted by Courthouse News, said "Zarrab is proclaiming his willingness to fabricate testimony out of whole cloth in order to obtain a reduced sentence."

While he was deciding whether to cooperate, Zarrab apparently had his eye on moving to the United Arab Emirates, where he has business interests.

"Ask the lawyer: 'Can he settle in Dubai after he finishes his sentence if he cooperates with the prosecutors in the U.S.? Can he arrange the residence permit if there is direct deportation to Dubai from the U.S.?'" Zarrab wrote in a note to one of his associates, according to Hurriyet.

Zarrab's attorney, Benjamin Brafman, had no comment.

The Istanbul prosecutor's office has detained three of Zarrab's associates and also announced plans to seize Zarrab's assets. According to court documents, Zarrab owns 20 properties, a stable of expensive horses, seven boats, a fleet of luxury cars, a private jet and $10 million worth of art — though it's not clear how much of that is still in Turkey.

The moves against Zarrab, 34, come days after he implicated Turkish President Recep Erdogan in the sanctions-busting scheme, testifying that in 2012 he ordered two banks to join the operation to move Iranian oil and gas money through American banks in violation of U.S. sanctions.

On Sunday, Erdogan denied that Turkey had done anything wrong.

"We bought natural gas from a country we have an agreement with so our citizens wouldn't be cold in the winter. Like other countries, only the UN's decisions bind us, and Turkey followed them to the dot," he said in a televised address, according to Reuters.

Turkish President Recep Erdogan is denouncing a U.S. trial.Murat Cetinmuhurdar / AP

Erdogan, who has kept a state of emergency in place since a coup attempt in 2016, repeated his allegation that a former rival now living in exile in the U.S. is the hidden hand behind the trial — a claim New York prosecutors say is ludicrous.

"We will not succumb to this blackmail," Erdogan said.

Prosecutors questioned Zarrab for a fourth day on Monday. On Tuesday, defense lawyers representing Halkbank deputy general manager Hakan Atilla get a chance to grill him.