November 16, 2017 / 3:53 PM / a year ago

U.S. judge declines to say whether Turkish trader Zarrab will face trial

NEW YORK/ANKARA (Reuters) - The U.S. judge presiding over the trial of a Turkish gold trader accused of evading U.S. sanctions against Iran on Thursday refused to say if the wealthy businessman would be on trial with one of his co-defendants later this month.

U.S. prosecutors have charged the trader, Reza Zarrab, and his alleged co-conspirators of handling hundreds of millions of dollars for Iran’s government and Iranian entities from 2010 to 2015, in a scheme to evade U.S. sanctions.

Nine people have been criminally charged, but only Zarrab and a banker from Turkey’s Halkbank, Mehmet Hakan Atilla, are in U.S. custody. Both deny the charges.

The case has complicated relations between the United States and Turkey, both members of the NATO military alliance.

While the two are due to go on trial on Nov.27, Zarrab has not appeared in court or submitted any filings since September, sparking speculation in Turkish media that he has reached an agreement with U.S. authorities.

U.S. District Judge Richard Berman refused to say whether Zarrab would be on trial alongside Atilla when asked by Victor Rocco, one of Atilla’s lawyers, at a court hearing on Thursday.

“The one perk that comes with being a judge is you don’t have to answer questions as witnesses and lawyers do,” Berman said.

Rocco told reporters after the hearing that he expected to know more about Zarrab in the next few days.

U.S. prosecutors have alleged that Zarrab, a dual Turkish and Iranian citizen, sought support from and invoked the name of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to advance his business.

Erdogan has not been accused of wrongdoing. The president has accused U.S. prosecutors of having “ulterior motives” by including references to him and his wife in court papers.

U.S. authorities informed Turkey that Zarrab had been moved to a different location and was in good medical condition, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said earlier on Thursday.

They responded after Turkey sent two diplomatic notes to ask about Zarrab’s condition after the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons website showed Zarrab had been released last week and his lawyers said they had not heard from their client in five days.

Reporting by Brendan Pierson and Tulay Karadeniz; Writing by Ali Kucukgocmen and David Dolan; Editing by Jon Boyle

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