Turkish Banker Case Takes Odd Turn as Zarrab Sued for Rape

Updated on
  • Fellow inmate says events turned cell into ‘torture chamber’
  • Lawyer for Zarrab calls allegations ‘outrageous and false’

Reza Zarrab in 2013.

Photographer: Ozan Kose/AFP via Getty Images

The trial against a Turkish banker accused of laundering money for Iran took a bizarre turn as the U.S. government’s star witness was sued for rape by a man who says he was a fellow inmate in a New York City jail.

The lawsuit against Reza Zarrab, a gold and currency trader who is cooperating with U.S. prosecutors, was filed Wednesday in state court in Manhattan. The plaintiff is a 62-year-old man from the Ivory Coast who claims he was held in a cell with Zarrab from mid-2016 to March, when Zarrab was transferred to another facility after the man complained.

“The allegations are outrageous and false from a source that is not remotely credible,” Zarrab’s lawyer, Robert Anello, said in an email. The plaintiff’s lawyer, Alexei Schacht, didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Zarrab is testifying in a high-profile case accusing Turkish banker Mehmet Hakan Atilla of aiding in a years-long plot to help Iran evade U.S. sanctions. After spending more than a year in a federal prison, Zarrab recently agreed to plead guilty and testify against Atilla, a deputy general manager at Turkiye Halk Bankasi AS, in exchange for leniency. 

Zarrab has been on the stand for seven days and is undergoing cross-examination by Atilla’s lawyer. There’s been no mention of the rape allegation in court.

Turkish Banker’s Lawyer Blames Laundering on Others at Halkbank

The plaintiff in the lawsuit says he was extradited last year to New York City from Prague and is being held in a federal lockup in Manhattan while awaiting sentencing. He pleaded guilty in July to a plot to provide weapons including surface-to-air missiles to the Colombian guerrilla group FARC, and is scheduled to learn his punishment on Feb. 1.

The man claims Zarrab befriended him, paid for his lawyer, put money into the man’s jailhouse account and wired money to his family in Africa -- and then began talking suggestively. The first of several alleged sexual assaults occurred in November 2016, according to the complaint, claiming battery, assault and emotional distress.

The two men were housed in different cells in the same unit of the Brooklyn jail when they developed a friendship because both were Shia Muslims, the suit claims. The other inmate said he was impressed by Zarrab’s wealth and power, especially since it helped him to buy "special treatment" from inmates and guards. Zarrab has admitted paying $45,000 in bribes, carried by one of his Turkish lawyers, to a guard in exchange for alcohol and Dayquil when he was sick, and use of his cellphone.

Zarrab bragged about his wealth, how it got him favors and that he would help the plaintiff win his case, according to the suit. He hired a private lawyer to represent the other inmate, wired money to his family in Africa and arranged to have the other inmate moved into his own cell, according to court papers.

Zarrab then began acting "odd," behaving in a sexual manner in front of the other inmate and began sexually assaulting him, according to the suit, which describes a series of incidents that occurred in the fall of 2016. During the next two months, the complaint says, their small cell "became a kind of torture chamber."

Zarrab was eventually moved to a different floor, but then the other inmate was moved to the same floor, which Zarrab told him happened because he bribed a worker with $4,000, according to the suit. The sexual assaults continued, until the other inmate eventually "had the courage" to complain to staff and Zarrab was moved to another unit, the complaint says.

— With assistance by Bob Van Voris

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