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How to Launder $1 Billion of Iranian Oil

Over six days on the stand, a star witness for the FBI spun a stunning tale of corruption and double-dealing.
Reza Zarrab.

Reza Zarrab.

Photographer: Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty Images

Looking nervous and somber, the FBI’s star witness entered from the lockup and shuffled across the New York federal courtroom in a beige prison smock. The Turkish-Iranian gold trader took a seat at the witness stand for the hearing on Nov. 29, the second day of testimony in a money laundering and sanctions-evasion case brought by the U.S. government. Asked to state his name, he said he was Reza Zarrab.

Not long ago, Zarrab’s life might have fit the description of a James Bond villain’s—he glided around Istanbul with his pop-star wife in Aston Martins and Range Rovers, flew on private planes, and sported around the Aegean with his own jetpack and submarine. He liked to carry a gold-plated pistol and kept an office at Trump Towers Istanbul. That all came to an end in March 2016, when Zarrab was arrested by FBI agents as he arrived in Miami for a vacation at Disney World. Over the next 18 months, Zarrab, 34, was the chief defendant in a prosecution accusing him and others of a conspiracy to launder almost $1 billion through banks in the U.S. to help Iran evade sanctions over its nuclear program.