Why would he do that? It’s not clear if any deal was ever discussed, but Zarrab is probably in possession of enough evidence to implicate several senior members of Turkey’s government, whom American prosecutors say Zarrab was bribing so that he could carry on with his scheme. Zarrab, prosecutors have told a federal judge in New York, used “his tremendous wealth not only to purchase several homes, yachts and other assets, but also to buy access to corrupt politicians in Turkey.”
Zarrab’s far-flung activities first came to public light four years ago—entirely by accident. On January 1, 2013, a cargo plane from Accra, Ghana, was diverted to Istanbul’s main international airport, because of fog. When customs officials searched the plane, they found three thousand pounds of gold bars. Turkish prosecutors—who at that time still had enough independence to challenge the central government—determined that Zarrab had been paying millions of dollars in bribes to senior officials in Erdoğan’s government, and they had the businessman arrested and charged. The police themselves were stunned. “We didn’t expect this little investigation to give way to a bigger one,’’ Nazmi Ardıç, the chief of the Istanbul police department’s organized-crime unit, told me in 2015.