The U.S. government illegally gained access to a Turkish businessman's iPhone and computer when he was arrested at a Florida airport in the spring, defense lawyers argued Wednesday as they asked a federal judge in New York to throw out the evidence and charges against him.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Lockard responded to the cellphone argument by one of defendant Reza Zarrab's lawyers by saying it was a "perfectly legitimate" practice by U.S. Customs agents at airports to request passcodes. He said it enables agents, for example, to know if somebody has a Daish flag as a screensaver.
He said it happens regularly, "in the same way if you're carrying locked luggage, you might be asked for the keys to your luggage."
Defense attorney Ben Brafman disputed the claim that it was common practice and said U.S. District Judge Richard Berman should hold a hearing to hear government agents testify about common practices and how the arrest unfolded for Zarrab, a well-known personality in Turkey partly because he's married to Turkish pop star and TV personality Ebru Gündeş.
"I think Mr. Lockard is dead wrong," Brafman said. "I think the facts here scream out for suppression."
Berman did not immediately rule after hearing the lawyers discuss the merits of an indictment charging Zarrab with conspiring to process hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of financial transactions for Iranian businesses or Iran's government. Authorities say those transactions are banned by U.S. and international sanctions.
U.S. Judge Berman's visit to Istanbul in 2014 to attend a symposium also created a controversy about Zarrab's case. According to the official website of the Venice Commission, which sent a delegation to the event, the symposium was organized by the Yüksel Karkın Küçük Attorney Partnership. In May, Sabah daily reported that the law firm had significant ties with FETÖ. Hürriyet daily also independently confirmed that the firm has been known for its involvement with FETÖ-related cases.
Zarrab, 33, a resident of Turkey, has been held without bail since his March 19 arrest in Miami. In 2013, Zarrab was arrested in a so-called corruption case. He maintained his innocence, and the charges were dropped.
Turkish authorities consider the so-called corruption inquiry as a plot perpetrated by members of Pennsylvania-based Fetullah Gülen's Gülenist terror group (FETÖ) to topple the government.
Defense attorney Paul Clement argued that the U.S. government overreached with the prosecution, applying laws that were not intended to ban transactions carried out by a non-U.S. citizen in Turkey.
He called the prosecution unprecedented and a "radical expansion" of the law. Lockard disagreed.
Zarrab is facing a maximum 75 year sentence for evading a U.S.-imposed sanction on Iran with multiple money transfers, appeared calm in court despite the possibility of waiting in prison for more than six months until the trial date set for January 2017.