Turkish banker gets 32 months for Iran sanctions plot

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A USA judge has sentenced a banker at Turkey's state-controlled Halkbank to 32 months in prison after he was found guilty of taking part in a scheme to help Iran evade U.S. sanctions.

Atilla was found guilty on January 3 of conspiring to violate USA sanctions law.

Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a senior executive at state-run Halkbank in Turkey, faced charges of co-conspiring along with Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab to bust USA sanctions through a complex scheme at the bank.

There was no immediate response to the sentencing from the Turkish government or Halkbank.

The judge said Atilla falsely testified at his trial on some matters but was unlikely to commit any new crimes, earned no profits directly from the fraud and had a role in the multi-year scheme that was less than many others. A jury convicted Atilla of five counts, including conspiracy, but acquitted him of one money-laundering charge.

Citing similar cases in which other national banks violated sanctions against Iran, the lawyers noted that none of the directors of those banks were arrested or sentenced but Atilla, who had no connection with the USA, was facing a prison term. Atilla was arrested months later on a trip to the U.S.

Watched intensely from NY to Istanbul, the proceedings ended with a likewise extraordinary 32-month sentence, a prison term lower than what prosecutors or even defense attorneys requested.

"This is the biggest sanctions-evasion case prosecuted in the United States that we're aware of", Lockard said, sounding dispirited by the judge's opening remarks.

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Lockard said the sanctions-busting scheme was "monumental in scope and momentous in timing" given the negotiations aimed at curtailing the nuclear aims of a state sponsor of terrorism and preventing a Middle East nuclear arms race. "If Hakan Atilla is going to be declared a criminal, that would be nearly equivalent to declaring the Turkish Republic a criminal".

"Atilla appears to have been a person doing his job, sometimes reluctantly or hesitatingly, under the direction of the Halkbank general manager Mr. Aslan, who did take bribes", Berman said.

Judge Richard Berman handed down the sentence of 32 months in a Manhattan court Wednesday. Then, weeks before trial past year, he agreed to cooperate. He demanded Atilla be sent to his family and his country.

Today's sentencing will further fracture the already shaky US-Turkey relationship.

Turkish government officials vilified the participants in the USA court proceedings, with the state news media labeling Berman, prosecutors and even reporters pawns in an elaborate conspiracy by Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen, a former Erdogan ally turned state enemy.

Prosecutors identified Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab as the central figure in the scheme.

Zarrab hired a platoon of high-priced lawyers including former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani to try to work out a deal between Erdogan, who was anxious to avoid the embarrassment of a trial, and the Trump administration. "I ask you to understand the position I and my family are in", he said.