Atilla sentenced to 32 months in USA prison over evading Iran sanctions

Atilla sentenced to 32 months in USA prison over evading Iran sanctions

A U.S. judge sentenced Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a banker at Turkey's state-controlled Halkbank, to 32 months in prison on Wednesday after he was convicted earlier this year of taking part in a scheme to help Iran evade USA sanctions.

But on January 3, Atilla was found guilty by a jury on five counts related to conspiracy and bank fraud but was acquitted of money laundering.

In a case that roiled relations with Turkish President Recep Erdogan, the government had made a deal with gold trader Reza Zarrab, the scheme's mastermind who admitted paying off Turkish ministers, to become a star witness against Hakan Atilla, a manager at state-owned Halkbank.

A Turkish banker was sentenced on Wednesday to 32 months in a United States prison for plotting to help Iran evade American sanctions, in an explosive case straining ties between Ankara and Washington.

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. The jury absolved him of money laundering charge.

Lawyers for Atilla had sought a sentence of less than four years.

The case has strained already tense relations between Turkey and the U.S. Erdogan told Bloomberg that "if Hakan Atilla is going to be declared a criminal, that would be nearly equivalent to declaring the Turkish Republic a criminal".

Prosecutor Michael Lockard told U.S. District Judge Richard Berman that Atilla had played a key role in eroding sanctions created to rein in Iran's nuclear ambitions and support for terrorism, and deserved to pay a heavy price. The defense, in contrary, expected between 46 and 57 months. Atilla was arrested months later on a trip to the U.S.

Atilla was found guilty of deceiving U.S. Treasury officials about Halkbank's activities and compliance efforts to avoid subjecting the bank to U.S. sanctions.

"This is a case about nuclear capability by the world's biggest state sponsor of terrorism", Lockard said.

Atilla, in brief comments to the judge Wednesday, asked for leniency. "If Hakan Atilla is going to be declared a criminal, that would be nearly equivalent to declaring the Turkish Republic a criminal".

"Mr. Atilla was neither a chief architect nor a beneficiary of the various schemes", the judge said.

Berman's remarks echoed arguments that Atilla's defense attorney Victor Rocco made throughout last year's trial.

Atilla began his remarks by mentioning the holiday being widely celebrated back in his home country.

Far away from his wife, son and aging parents, Atilla pleaded for a quick return to his family. "I ask you to understand the position I and my family are in", he said.

Zarrab, who has yet to be sentenced, testified during Atilla's trial that he bribed Turkish officials, and that Erdogan personally signed off on parts of the scheme while serving as Turkey's prime minister.

A month later, a NY judge turned down a request by Atilla to acquit him of all charges due to lack of evidence, saying there was "sufficient evidence" to support the charges.

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