Turkish trader in United States sanctions trial accused of sexual assault by inmate

Detained Azerbaijani businessman Reza Zarrab is surrounded by journalists as he arrives at a police center in Istanbul

Turkish-Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab, who agreed to cooperate with USA prosecutors in the trial of Mehmet Hakan Atilla, an executive at Turkey's Halkbank, has been accused of raping his cellmate in a Manhattan prison.

Corroborating criticisms that justice was not served by the probe's closure, Zarrab said that he helped pay his way out of a Turkish prison.

"I came face to face with an individual who was trying to take my life, and he had pulled a knife on me, and I was about to lose my life", Zarrab told a NY jury on Thursday.

Reza Zarrab, who has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with USA prosecutors in the case, also said he had complained about Halkbank deputy general manager Mehmet Hakan Atilla to Atilla's former superior on multiple occasions.

Zarrab has testified that he bribed Turkey's former economy minister and that Erdoğan approved of a scheme to help Iran avoid United States and UK sanctions. Fleming then asked about Zarrab's efforts to get out of US jail after his March 2016 arrest.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday that the NY trial of a Turkish banker is a U.S. conspiracy being staged to "blackmail" and "blemish" his country. Zarrab previously testified under questioning by a prosecutor that he worked with Halkbank from 2012 to 2016 to help Iran spend its oil and gas revenue overseas using fraudulent gold and food transactions. Zarrab is testifying against Turkish banker Mehmet Hakan Atilla.

In another conversation, Zarrab's attorney said that he would "meet with BB and would also summon the general manager".

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His testimony turned dramatic Thursday as it neared its end as Assistant U.S. Attorney Sidhardha Kamaraju elicited a description of a jailhouse attack. The sexual assaults continued, until the other inmate eventually "had the courage" to complain to staff and Zarrab was moved to another unit, the complaint says.

"He said that he had received instructions to kill because I was cooperating", he said.

Afterward, Zarrab was removed from prison and has remained since in the custody of Federal Bureau of Investigation agents, though he has not said where.

Zarrab's testimony likely will win him leniency against charges that otherwise could carry a prison term of up to 130 years. According to a transcript of sidebar conversations between the judge and lawyers, Atilla's defense lawyers considered confronting Zarrab on the witness stand with the accusations but decided against it. Zarrab said he used the guard's phone to speak with his wife, daughter and lawyer. Zarrab also sent money to Jaber's family in Africa and put cash in his commissary account, it added.

The two men were housed in different cells in the same unit of the Brooklyn jail when they developed a friendship because both were Shia Muslims, the suit claims.

"Because the two men were alone in their locked cell (Jaber) felt helpless and unable to fight off the younger and stronger (Zarrab)", the suit says.

Zarrab's lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, denied the charges.

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