Turkish Gold Dealer Wants N.Y. Judge Off His Criminal Case

Updated on
  • Reza Zarrab asks Judge Richard Berman to disqualify himself
  • Zarrab cites judge’s comments at 2014 Istanbul legal forum

Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab wants his U.S. bank laundering case removed from the federal judge assigned to it.

Based on U.S. District Judge Richard Berman’s disclosure that he participated in a legal conference in Istanbul in 2014, it would “unfortunately create an unavoidable appearance of partiality for the court to continue to oversee this matter,” Zarrab said in a filing Tuesday in Manhattan federal court. He’s asking for Berman to disqualify himself from handling the case.

Zarrab, owner and operator of Royal Holding A.S., is accused of using a web of companies over five years to induce U.S. banks to launder hundreds of millions of dollars in transactions that violated international sanctions against Iran. He’s been in U.S. custody since his arrest.

Zarrab, who holds Turkish and Iranian citizenship, was previously charged in a graft probe in Turkey in 2013. In that case, he was accused of bribing ministers with millions of dollars in cash and gifts to help facilitate trade in gold with Iran, according to police and court documents in Turkey reviewed by Bloomberg News. He has denied the charges, saying the business was legitimate. The ministers also denied committing wrongdoing.

These events and allegations were a primary focus of the Istanbul conference that Berman attended, during which the judge led a panel on the topic of an “independent and effective judiciary,” according to Zarrab’s filing. Berman was quoted in an interview with a Turkish newspaper saying the “rule of law is under attack in Turkey because the independence of the judiciary has been challenged,” Zarrab said in the filing.

Turkish Government

Zarrab also says the judge commented on the 2013 cases in which Zarrab was a lead defendant, telling the newspaper that the Turkish government’s responses to the legal proceedings was compromised. He said Berman was quoted saying, “It is inappropriate to change the rules of the game while the game is taking place,”’ according to the filing.

Berman declined through a clerk to comment on the filing. Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Lockard also declined to comment and referred questions to media representatives at his office, who didn’t answer phone calls after regular business hours.

The case is U.S. v. Zarrab, 15-cr-00867, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).