New York (AFP) - Reza Zarrab -- the key witness in a New York trial over alleged skirting of US economic sanctions against Iran -- has been accused of sexually assaulting a cellmate, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday.
According to the suit, Ivorian inmate Faouzi Jaber alleges the Turkish-Iranian gold trader of sexually assaulted him while they shared a cell in a Manhattan federal prison between November 2016 and March of this year.
The sexual abuse against 62-year-old Jaber -- described as a "frail" man suffering from several "medical ailments -- transformed the cell into a "torture chamber," it said. The abuse allegedly continued until Zarrab was transferred to another unit.
Robert Anello, attorney for Zarrab, told AFP the allegations were "outrageous and false from a source that is not remotely credible."
When asked by AFP why the sexual assault lawsuit has only now been filed, Jaber's attorney Alexei Schacht said he was only recently hired to be his lawyer and so "filed it as soon as possible."
He said that although the Federal Bureau of Prisons found the allegations to be "unsubstantiated," that did not mean that it did not happen, just that there was not sufficient evidence -- and added Zarrab bribed his prison guards to obtain alcohol and a telephone while behind bars.
The accusations have surfaced as Zarrab testifies before a federal court in Manhattan on his role in a lucrative regional trade circuit, that saw Iran inject billions of euros of hydrocarbon revenues into the international banking sector via Turkey's Halkbank public banking institution -- circumventing US sanctions prohibiting trade with Tehran.
Zarrab, who pleaded guilty at the end of October and is cooperating with the US government, implicated Turkey's ex-economic affairs minister Zafer Caglayan, and also suggested President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was aware of what was going on.
The Turkish government, which has branded the trial a "plot" and denies all allegations, in recent days detained 17 suspects as part of an investigation into Zarrab.