Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan asked former Vice President Joe Biden to fire US attorney Preet Bharara last September over Bharara’s involvement in denying bail to a Turkish-Iranian gold dealer set to go to trial in New York next month on charges of fraud and money laundering, according to The Washington Post.
Bharara wrote a memo last May alleging that the dealer, Reza Zarrab, “facilitated millions of dollars-worth of transactions on behalf of Iran… through a global network of companies located in Turkey and the United Arab Emirates ” designed to evade US sanctions.
The allegations did not stop at an elaborate laundering scheme, however — Bharara wrote in his memo denying Zarrab bail that the businessman “engaged in a massive bribery scheme… paying cabinet-level [Turkish] governmental officials and high-level bank officers tens of millions of Euro and US dollars” to facilitate his transactions.
Erdogan fiercely lobbied high-level Obama administration officials for Zarrab’s release, beginning shortly after Zarrab was arrested in Miami last March, according to The Washington Post’s David Ignatius. Erdogan made personal appeals to both Biden and President Barack Obama, and sent his justice minister at the time to meet with then-Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch and argue that the case was “based on no evidence.”
Zarrab was not released, but Erdogan apparently continued lobbying for his release into January. By the time Obama left office, the Turkish government had already begun establishing ties to people close to President Donald Trump, including former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Giuliani joined Zarrab’s legal team in March, shortly after Flynn was fired over his conversations with Russia’s former ambassador to the US, Sergei Kislyak. Giuliani and Zarrab’s other lawyer, Michael Mukasey, travelled to meet with Erdogan in February to discuss the case, according to The New York Times.
Giuliani told Bharara he was going to Ankara to meet with Erdogan on February 24, according to The Post. Bharara, who was appointed by Obama in 2009 and had been assured by Trump that he would be allowed to keep his job, was unexpectedly fired in early March.
Trump reached out Bharara one day before Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked for his resignation along with those of 45 other US attorneys who had been appointed by Obama. Bharara had not responded because of protocols governing a president’s contact with federal prosecutors.
A few weeks later, Giuliani began lobbying the Justice Department for “a state-to-state resolution of this case” that would aid American “security interests,” according to court documents filed in April.
Flynn’s ties to Turkey came under scrutiny in November, when he wrote an op-ed article for The Hill alleging that Erdogan’s nemesis Fetullah Gulen helmed a “vast global network” that “has all the right markings to fit the description of a dangerous sleeper terror network.”
It was later revealed that Flynn had been doing lobbying work for a Turkish businessman with ties to the government while serving as a top Trump campaign surrogate throughout the latter half of 2016.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
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