Mehmet Hakan Atilla gets 32-month sentence in Iran sanctions case

17 May, 2018, 05:09 | Author: Carlos George
  • Atilla sentenced to 32 months in US prison over evading Iran sanctions

Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a banker at Turkey's state-controlled Halkbank, was sentenced on May 16 by District Judge Richard Berman in Manhattan.

Today's sentencing will further fracture the already shaky US-Turkey relationship. Atilla, who headed global banking at Turkiye Halk Bankasi AS, remains employed by the bank, according to his lawyers.

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

His crime "appears to have been driven by loyalty to his career, employer Halkbank and to his country", Berman said. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned the trial as a "chain of serious plots" against his government.

In the decades after the Iranian hostage crisis, in which 52 Americans were held captive from 1979 to 1981, the United States imposed increasingly stiffer sanctions prohibiting virtually all US financial dealings with oil-rich Iran, including many bank transactions. President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the agreement last week and said the sanctions will be reimposed.

"Today is the first day of the holy month of Ramadan", Atilla wrote in prepared remarks read by attorney Cathy Fleming.

"Now apart from my family, I have no other priorities", he said.

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His conviction hinged on the testimony of Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab, who was arrested by U.S. authorities in 2016 after getting to Florida with his wife and child on a family holiday to Disney World.

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

Prosecutors had argued Mr. Atilla, who worked at Turkish state-owned bank Halkbank, helped the Iranian government illegally access billions of dollars of assets that had been frozen by the U.S. As a result of this scheme, he and his co-conspirators caused USA banks to unknowingly process transactions on behalf of the Iranian government, the Justice Department said.

Atilla appeared to be a marginal figure in the case. Atilla, by contrast, wasn't named as a defendant until nearly a year after the indictment was unsealed.

Nine defendants have been charged in the case, but most of the others reside in Turkey and remain at large. He was acquitted on one count of money laundering. He was convicted in January and plans to appeal.

Berman said a lengthier prison term would be "inappropriate, unreasonable and unfair". Though the prosecution has requested a 15-year jail term, it remains unclear what sentence he will be handed.

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.

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