U.S. arrests Turkish businessman accused of evading Iran sanctions

NEW YORK (Reuters) - An Iranian-born Turkish businessman has been arrested in Florida on charges that he and others conspired to conduct hundreds of millions of dollars in financial transactions for the Iranian government or other entities to evade U.S. sanctions.

Reza Zarrab, 33, was charged in an indictment filed in federal court in Manhattan along with one of his employees, Kamelia Jamshidy, and Hossein Najafzadeh, a senior officer at a unit of Bank Mellat in Iran, U.S. prosecutors said on Monday.

Zarrab was arrested on Saturday in Miami and appeared in federal court there on Monday, where a federal magistrate judge ordered him detained. Both Jamshidy and Najafzadeh, who are both Iranian nationals, remained at large.

A lawyer for Zarrab, who is married to Turkish pop star Ebru Gundes, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Jamshidy and Najafzadeh could not be immediately contacted.

The arrest came two months after Iran emerged from years of economic isolation when world powers led by the United States and the European Union lifted crippling sanctions against the country in return for curbs on Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

Zarrab previously attracted attention when he was detained for two months in Turkey, beginning in 2013, without charges as part of a high-profile corruption probe.

According to the U.S. indictment, Zarrab, a dual citizen of Turkey and Iran, owned and operated a network of companies in Turkey and in the United Arab Emirates, including Royal Holding A.S., which employed Jamshidy.

The indictment said Zarrab, Jamshidy and Najafzadeh, a senior officer at Bank Mellat’s Mellat Exchange, conspired to thwart economic sanctions against Iran by concealing transactions benefiting Iran’s government and Iranian entities.

Prosecutors said that from 2010 to 2015, the trio helped Iranian individuals and entities, including Bank Mellat, one of the largest banks in Iran, evade U.S. sanctions by conducting financial transactions through Turkish and Emirati companies.

The indictment charges Zarrab, Jamshidy, 29, and Najafzadeh, 65, with engaging in conspiracies to defraud the United States, to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, to commit bank fraud and to commit money laundering.

The case is U.S. v. Zarrab, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 15-cr-867.

Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by David Gregorio and Tom Brown