Giuliani’s Work for Accused Iran-Sanctions Buster Is a SecretBy
Pair ‘may impact prosecution,’ but won’t appear in court
Case has added to diplomatic strain between U.S., Turkey
It’s pretty clear what former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and ex-U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey aren’t doing as part of a defense team hired by a Turkish-Iranian businessman charged with helping Iran evade financial sanctions.
What’s not clear is what they are doing.
Earlier this week, U.S. District Judge Richard Berman ordered lawyers for Reza Zarrab to file a written explanation of Giuliani’s and Mukasey’s roles. Their letter on Thursday didn’t provide much clarity.
The hiring “may impact the prosecution,” defense lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, wrote the judge. Whether it will “is a matter of speculation,” he said. He didn’t detail the pair’s activities saying they were protected by attorney and client privilege, he said. And, Giuliani and Mukasey are serving an “ancillary role” and won’t have any direct interaction with the court, he said.
The two attorneys are the latest additions to an elite white-collar criminal defense team that has included almost 20 lawyers on behalf of Zarrab, who has been charged with laundering hundreds of millions of dollars through the U.S. financial system for Iran and its companies. Zarrab has close ties to the administration of Turkish president Recep Erdogan, and the case has heightened diplomatic tensions between the two countries.
The New York Times reported this week that Giuliani and Mukasey traveled to meet with Erdogan last month. The newspaper cited a person briefed on the meeting who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
At least one former member of President Donald Trump’s administration has close ties to Erdogan. Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn was a paid representative of the Turkish government. Mukasey and Giuliani have also advised the president. Earlier this month, Trump fired Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, whose office is prosecuting Zarrab. Meanwhile, Mukasey’s son Marc has been widely speculated as a candidate to succeed Bharara.
As he took office, Trump sought to repair Turkish relations. But, at the same time, he has sought new sanctions against Iran and harshly criticized a nuclear agreement it struck with the U.S. and other world powers in 2015.
Dawn Dearden, a spokeswoman at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan, declined to comment on the case.
Brafman said in his letter that Giuliani and Mukasey won’t appear in court, aren’t involved in trial preparation, won’t engage in plea discussions with the government, and “do not intend to appear before your Honor in any capacity in connection with this case.”
“Yes, the roles of Messrs. Giuliani and Mukasey are different,” he added in his two-page filing.
Mukasey and Giuliani didn’t respond to voice-mail messages left at their offices seeking comment.
Federal prosecutors have asked the judge to hold a hearing on whether Giuliani’s and Mukasey’s involvement poses a conflict of interest. Berman told them to respond to Brafman’s letter by Friday.
Adding to sensitivity around the case, Zarrab was a key figure in a 2013 bribery scandal in Turkey, in which prosecutors accused him of making payments to the country’s cabinet ministers and top executives at Halk Bankasi AS, one of Turkey’s largest state-owned banks. The bank allegedly helped Zarrab process the money-laundering transactions for Iran. Erdogan branded the bribery investigation a coup attempt and charges against all defendants were dropped.
Zarrab was denied bail and remains in U.S. custody, with his trial scheduled for later this year.
In the meantime, prosecutors continue to pursue the case. Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a top Halkbank banker, was detained Mar. 27 at John F. Kennedy airport by FBI agents. Atilla used the bank to help Zarrab disguise transactions as humanitarian food shipments to Iran, according to the FBI.
The case is U.S. v. Zarrab, 15-cr-867, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).