This week, infamous gold-smuggler Reza Zarrab became a witness in a case concerning the wholesale violations of sanctions against Iran imposed by the U.S. and the United Nations. Zarrab is now testifying in open court, and he has just revealed allegations that amount to a major bombshell: The President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, personally ordered those violations. That’s not just news that will roil Turkish and international politics; it’s news that could put the Trump administration in a serious bind.
- A quick recap of how this worked: Here’s the scheme, in miniature, as overseen by Zarrab and that first came to light in 2013. First, Iranian interests transfer money they’ve collected from selling oil or sell oil and gas directly through front companies, via Halkbank, a state-owned Turkish bank. Those front companies buy gold with the cash. That gold was then shipped to Iran, via Dubai, and used as an asset elsewhere in the world.
- The Turkish government, and Erdoğan’s party (the Justice and Development Party, or AKP) was heavily involved: Everyone arrested in the corruption scandal had some tie to the AKP, and two of Erdoğan’s sons were among those arrested. Clearly, this was embarrassing, because at best, this meant one of Turkey’s top government officials was completely blind to a massive crime ring literally being run out of his offices, but Turkey, as a democratic country, would deal with it, right?
- Erdoğan quashed the investigation: Amid enormous international blowback, the AKP quashed the entire investigation and starting firing people who had the power to investigate Erdoğan. They even gave back the money that had been repossessed, with interest. Erdoğan insisted, repeatedly, that this was just an attempt to frame him by his political rivals. Nobody genuinely believed this, but as this whole matter was within the confines of the Turkish legal system, there simply wasn’t much anybody could do.