As Michael Flynn, President Donald Trump’s former national security advisor, pleaded guilty on Friday to lying to FBI agents about conversations he had with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, another case playing out in a New York court room might make things even worse for Flynn and have serious repercussions for the Trump administration.
In a case that seems right out of a slick Hollywood movie, Reza Zarrab, a Turkish-Iranian gold trader, is cooperating with U.S. prosecutors in a criminal trial that involves truckloads of gold, a scheme to evade U.S. sanctions on Iran, and a money-laundering and bribery scheme that goes all the way up to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, knocking down the country’s economy and treasury ministers along the way. If Erdogan had his way, this case would have never gone forward — and there’s a chance that Flynn had a role in trying to make that happen.
Investigators working for Special Council Robert Mueller are already looking into Flynn’s ties to the Turkish government, including a scheme that involved Flynn and his son, Michael Flynn Jr., somehow kidnapping Turkish opposition figure Fethullah Gulen from his home in the United States and deliver him to Turkey, where Erdogan accuses him of orchestrating the failed July 2016 coup against him. NBC reported that investigators are also looking into whether Flynn and others were involved in discussions on how to free Zarrab, allowing Erdogan to save face.
So far, Zarrab has testified that using money deposited in Halkbank, he bought gold, smuggled it to Dubai, and sold it there for cash. When sanctions tightened in 2013, he started faking large food purchases to launder money, bribing high-level officials to facilitate the deals.
Bloomberg reported that Zarrab, who operated out of an office in Trump Tower in Istanbul, disappeared for a while after being apprehended by U.S. authorities in March 2016 before agreeing to cooperate with prosecutors.
Now, if U.S. prosecutors have this case right, it certainly follows a long-established script of money moving across the Iran-Turkey border — there have been bizarre stories in Turkish media for years on containers filled of U.S. dollars and Iranian gold being seized by authorities — as far back as 2009.