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Reza Zarrab, a Turkish gold trader who has been charged in Manhattan with conspiring to violate the United States sanctions on Iran, may have decided to plead guilty. Credit Ozan Kose/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

With just weeks before Reza Zarrab, a Turkish gold trader who has been charged in Manhattan with conspiring to violate the United States sanctions on Iran, is to go on trial, his lawyers have given every indication that he may be prepared to plead guilty.

If so, it would be a startling turn of events for Mr. Zarrab, who has been aggressively battling his widely watched legal case ever since his arrest in 2016, hiring a dream team of lawyers and seeking dismissal of the charges.

He even retained Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York mayor, in an effort to try to persuade the Trump administration and Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to agree to a diplomatic resolution to his case.

But in court papers filed on Monday, lawyers for Mr. Zarrab’s co-defendant, a Turkish banker named Mehmet Hakan Atilla, wrote that Mr. Zarrab “has essentially not participated in the case” since September, and it seemed “likely that Mr. Atilla will be the only defendant appearing at trial.”

There were other telling signs of inaction: At midnight on Monday, Mr. Zarrab’s lawyers allowed a deadline to pass without filing court papers that would have allowed him to challenge the admissibility of key government evidence against him.

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The lawyers also did not submit proposed jury instructions or questions to be asked of prospective jurors when they are selected for the trial, which is scheduled to begin on Nov. 27.

And there was no indication Mr. Zarrab had joined in court filings made by Mr. Atilla’s lawyers, who on Monday filed challenges to the government’s evidence and offered jury-related proposals.

Mr. Zarrab’s lead lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, declined to comment on Tuesday, as did Victor J. Rocco, a lawyer for Mr. Atilla. The United States attorney’s office in Manhattan also had no comment.

But a legal expert said that Mr. Zarrab’s decision to forego the court filings this week was a significant step.

“One would not expect a lawyer going to trial to give up these chances to shape the way his client’s case gets presented to the jury,” said Daniel C. Richman, a former federal prosecutor who is now a law professor at Columbia University.

Mr. Zarrab, who has dual Turkish-Iranian citizenship, was arrested in Florida in March 2016 on a family trip to Disney World, and was sent to Manhattan to face federal charges of money laundering and conspiring to violate the Iran sanctions. In March 2017, Mr. Atilla was arrested in New York. Both men have pleaded not guilty.

If Mr. Zarrab is negotiating a guilty plea, one question will be whether he would cooperate with the American investigation. The prosecution has strained relations between the United States and Turkey, and has drawn sharp criticism from President Erdogan, who has often raised it with American officials.

Mr. Erdogan raised it in a telephone call with President Trump on Sept. 9, just after federal prosecutors announced a new indictment that charged four additional defendants in the case, including Mehmet Zafer Caglayan, who served as Turkey’s economy minister from 2011 to 2013. Mr. Erdogan has called the indictment “a step against the Turkish Republic.”

A total of nine people have been charged in the case, although only Mr. Zarrab and Mr. Atilla are in custody in New York.

The potential new development comes at a time of continued tension between the United States and Turkey, as played out most recently with both countries suspending visa services in a dispute over Turkey’s detention of two United States consular employees.

Continue reading the main story

With just weeks before Reza Zarrab, a Turkish gold trader who has been charged in Manhattan with conspiring to violate the United States sanctions on Iran, is to go on trial, his lawyers have given every indication that he may be prepared to plead guilty.

If so, it would be a startling turn of events for Mr. Zarrab, who has been aggressively battling his widely watched legal case ever since his arrest in 2016, hiring a dream team of lawyers and seeking dismissal of the charges.

He even retained Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York mayor, in an effort to try to persuade the Trump administration and Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to agree to a diplomatic resolution to his case.

But in court papers filed on Monday, lawyers for Mr. Zarrab’s co-defendant, a Turkish banker named Mehmet Hakan Atilla, wrote that Mr. Zarrab “has essentially not participated in the case” since September, and it seemed “likely that Mr. Atilla will be the only defendant appearing at trial.”

There were other telling signs of inaction: At midnight on Monday, Mr. Zarrab’s lawyers allowed a deadline to pass without filing court papers that would have allowed him to challenge the admissibility of key government evidence against him.

The lawyers also did not submit proposed jury instructions or questions to be asked of prospective jurors when they are selected for the trial, which is scheduled to begin on Nov. 27.

And there was no indication Mr. Zarrab had joined in court filings made by Mr. Atilla’s lawyers, who on Monday filed challenges to the government’s evidence and offered jury-related proposals.

Mr. Zarrab’s lead lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, declined to comment on Tuesday, as did Victor J. Rocco, a lawyer for Mr. Atilla. The United States attorney’s office in Manhattan also had no comment.

But a legal expert said that Mr. Zarrab’s decision to forego the court filings this week was a significant step.

“One would not expect a lawyer going to trial to give up these chances to shape the way his client’s case gets presented to the jury,” said Daniel C. Richman, a former federal prosecutor who is now a law professor at Columbia University.

Mr. Zarrab, who has dual Turkish-Iranian citizenship, was arrested in Florida in March 2016 on a family trip to Disney World, and was sent to Manhattan to face federal charges of money laundering and conspiring to violate the Iran sanctions. In March 2017, Mr. Atilla was arrested in New York. Both men have pleaded not guilty.

If Mr. Zarrab is negotiating a guilty plea, one question will be whether he would cooperate with the American investigation. The prosecution has strained relations between the United States and Turkey, and has drawn sharp criticism from President Erdogan, who has often raised it with American officials.

Mr. Erdogan raised it in a telephone call with President Trump on Sept. 9, just after federal prosecutors announced a new indictment that charged four additional defendants in the case, including Mehmet Zafer Caglayan, who served as Turkey’s economy minister from 2011 to 2013. Mr. Erdogan has called the indictment “a step against the Turkish Republic.”

A total of nine people have been charged in the case, although only Mr. Zarrab and Mr. Atilla are in custody in New York.

The potential new development comes at a time of continued tension between the United States and Turkey, as played out most recently with both countries suspending visa services in a dispute over Turkey’s detention of two United States consular employees.

Nytimes

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