In March 2016, Zarrab incautiously travels with his wife and daughter to Disneyland in Florida. He is apprehended at the airport in Miami. One year later, the FBI arrests Mehmet Hakan Atilla as well, a manager at the Turkish Halkbank, where Zarrab has accounts. The Americans catch Atilla at a New York airport. The Turkish banker apparently planned to attend a congress.
The indictment by the New York district attorney against Zarrab and Atilla, as well as the trial at the end of 2017, cast the case in a new light. It is now evident how deeply the government of the United States was involved in the matter from the outset.
American authorities were already on the trail of Zarrab and his network long before the Turkish investigators caught wind of the affair. The New York prosecutors quote an email Zarrab wrote to the Iranian Central Bank asking the Iranian leadership for its help in maintaining Iran's trade relations with other countries despite the hostile sanctions.
Zarrab refers in his email to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his talk of "economic jihad." He presents himself as a loyal citizen of the Islamic Republic who naturally must regard this slogan as a mandate to counteract the sanctions.
This email is dated 3 December 2011. The U.S. prosecutors also cite emails from Iranian bank employees and representatives from the national oil company that were sent during 2011. The Iranians express therein their alarm that money transfers can no longer be made for oil delivered abroad. As mentioned above, the Turkish investigation didn't begin until January 2013.
So where did the Americans get their information? From the Turks? Surely not, but from their own well-equipped intelligence services instead! Two former top officials in the U.S. Treasury Department testify before the court in New York: Adam Szubin and David S. Cohen. Both were responsible for the fight against "terrorist financing".
Halkbank targeted by U.S. investigators
Cohen, who was promoted to deputy chief of the CIA in 2015, testified that he had warned Atilla several times about doing business with Iran through the Halkbank. Szubin was cross-examined in court by the defence counsel for Atilla. The lawyer asked him when he had heard of Reza Zarrab for the first time. The former top civil servant replied: "I learned of his actions through information channels I am not at liberty to name."
The New York trial also revealed that an FBI "case manager" named Jennifer McReynolds had been in charge of investigating the Turkish banker Atilla. McReynolds was present at Atilla's arrest at the New York airport. Atilla's defence attorneys requested the questioning of the FBI agent in court to find out more about the approach being taken by the U.S. government to the case. Their request was denied. Worthy of note here is that Atilla was never charged with an offence by the Turkish investigators.