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US prosecutors say businessman with 'close ties' to Turkey's Erdogan poses flight risk

A US case against an Iranian-Turkish gold trader stands to reveal details of corruption in the Turkish government. The case is being closely watched in Turkey.

An Iranian-Turkish billionaire businessman who is accused of money laundering and sanctions violations poses an extraordinary flight risk and should not receive bail, US prosecutors said on Wednesday.

Reza Zarrab, 32, is a "sophisticated, well-connected, international businessman with immense wealth and influence," US prosecutors in the Southern District of New York said ahead of a bail hearing next week.

The businessman was arrested in Miami in March on charges of using a web of companies based in Turkey and the United Arab Emirates to help Iran and other entities violate US sanctions through millions of dollars of transactions from 2010 to 2015.

Zarrab possesses enormous assets, including 20 properties, 17 luxury cars, seven yachts, a plane and more than $10 million (8.9 million euros) in artwork, prosecutors said, noting that his businesses earn more than $11 billion a year.

Prosecutors said they had undeniable evidence of guilt through email communications, business records and financial documents. The defense lawyers are seeking $50 million bail and 24-hour security.

US case threatens Erdogan's circle

The case is being closely watched in Turkey.

US prosecutors said Zarrab has "close ties" to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Zarrab was at the center of a 2013 gold corruption scandal in Turkey that ensnared then Prime Minister Erdogan's government. Prosecutors in Turkey alleged he bribed high-level officials to facilitate illicit transactions with Iran.

Three ministers were ultimately forced to resign even though they claimed their innocence.

The charges against Zarrab were ultimately dropped after Erdogan, who called the corruption allegations a coup orchestrated by political opponents, dismissed prosecutors and police working on the case.

US prosecutors said a Turkish prosecutor's report into corruption had been "corroborated by emails obtained through the FBI's investigation."

The corruption scandal led to a sweeping crackdown on opponents and further control over the media.

US prosecutors allege Zarrab used his wealth and influence to buy access to corrupt politicians in Turkey and halt investigations against him.

"There appear to be credible allegations that Zarrab has already secured his release from Turkish prison by causing the wholesale reorganization of the Turkish prosecutor's office and police department through bribery," US prosecutors said.

Turkey's opposition hopes the case will shed light on alleged corruption in the government.

cw/jm (AP, Reuters)

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