Turkish banker gets 32 months prison in United States case over Iran sanctions

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

The Turkish Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday a USA court's sentencing of Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a banker at Turkish state-lender Halkbank, to 32 months in prison was not legitimate or credible due to "fake evidence and incorrect statements" during the trial.

A former manager at Turkey's state-run Halkbank, Atilla was convicted by a federal jury in January for helping funnel billions to Iran in violation of USA sanctions.

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 US sanctions through a complex scheme at the bank. The jury absolved him of money laundering charge.

U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman ordered Mehmet Hakan Atilla to spend 32 months in prison, including 14 months he has already served after his arrest past year during a business trip to NY on behalf of his employer, Turkey's state-run Halkbank.

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During trial a year ago, prosecutors labeled Atilla an "architect" of two schemes to accomplish this.

The Turkish government has fulminated about Zarrab and Atilla's cases, labeling them an attempted "judicial coup" on Erdogan.

By then, Judge Berman already had rejected the prosecution's depiction of Atilla's role and revealed that his sentence would be "appropriately lenient". Indeed, the US-based prosecution has alleged that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan greenlighted the evasion scheme, which has prompted Erdogan to hit back with accusations that Washington is hatching a plot to undermine his country's reputation.

Zarrab, who is yet to be sentenced, testified for several days as the U.S. government's star witness against Atilla.

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"You stole my thunder, judge", Rocco said today. The bank has previously said that all of its transactions have been lawful.

However, Berman said before imposing his sentence that the evidence at trial showed Atilla was a minor player in the sanctions-dodging scheme, and "at times a reluctant one at that", largely following orders from his supervisor.

The judge underlined that Zarrab convincingly explained during the trial the involvement of Atilla in the entire scheme. The sanctions-evasion case, the prosecutor said, was one of the biggest in the US history. He demanded Atilla be sent to his family and his country.

However, prosecutors on Wednesday noted that the government did not seek a 105-year sentence, or a life sentence for Atilla, adding that it recommended a sentence of about 20 years, some 80 years below guidelines. The defense, in contrary, expected between 46 and 57 months.

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