Turkish Banker Gets 32-Month Sentence in Iran Sanctions Case

Mehmet Hakan Atilla

Mehmet Hakan Atilla

Today, Hakan Atilla, a Turkish banker, will be sentenced for helping Iran evade sanctions.

Mehmet Hakan Atilla, 47, deputy chief executive of Turkish lender Halkbank, was convicted by a NY jury on January 3 on five counts of bank fraud and conspiracy.

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 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. He was acquitted on one count of money laundering.

Atilla, who worked as a deputy general manager at Halkbank, has already spent 14 months in jail.

Prosecutors had sought a sentence of about 20 years for Atilla. He simply tried to downplay his role in the fake food scheme and refused to have meetings with USA officials.

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".

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

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.

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Lawyers for Atilla said they would nonetheless appeal.

Judge Berman noted the feverish pitch of some observers of Atilla's trial, particularly in Turkey, when he promised to make a transcript of the sentencing available to the public later Wednesday.

"If Hakan Atilla is going to be declared a criminal, that would be nearly equivalent to declaring the Turkish Republic a criminal", Erdogan said. Then, weeks before trial past year, he agreed to cooperate.

The judge said he thought that a life sentence would not be appropriate. He demanded Atilla be sent to his family and his country.

In testimony that made a big splash in Turkey, Zarrab said he made $100 million to $150 million from the scheme and detailed corruption implicating Erdogan and his ministers, while Atilla's lawyers said he was a "pawn" being used to stage a show trial in absentia of Erdogan's government.

Atilla's sentencing was postponed twice and previously, prosecutors asked a federal judge to sentence him to at least 15 years in prison and a fine of $50,000- $500,000.

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.

His conviction hinged on the testimony of Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab, who was arrested by United States authorities in 2016 after getting to Florida with his wife and child on a family holiday to Disney World. "I ask you to understand the position I and my family are in", he said.

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