Turkish banker gets 32 months prison in USA case over Iran sanctions

US court used 'forged evidence' to jail Turkish banker

US court used 'forged evidence' to jail Turkish banker

A senior banker at one of Turkey's largest banks got a break from a US judge, who sentenced him to less than three years in prison for aiding an Iranian plot to evade sanctions and launder $1 billion in oil revenue through the USA financial system.

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

Prosecutors had sought a sentence of about 20 years for Atilla, who worked as a deputy general manager at Halkbank.

The transactions violated U.S. Sanctions and were disguised as fraudulent gold and food transactions through Halkbank, prosecutors said. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned the trial as a "chain of serious plots" against his government.

The strained relations are set to have a tangible effect on arms trade between the two countries.

Atilla was arrested in NY in March 2017, a year after Zarrab's arrest in Florida. A jury convicted Atilla of five counts, including conspiracy, but acquitted him of one money-laundering charge.

But the prosecutor's strong words did not match a voice and demeanor that were otherwise listless, and with good reason.

Judge Richard Berman handed down the sentence of 32 months in a Manhattan court 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. Atilla, who headed worldwide banking at Turkiye Halk Bankasi AS, remains employed by the bank, according to his lawyers.

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

"We appreciate the thought and comprehensiveness of the judge's sentence", Rocco said.

Berman went to great lengths to ensure that today's proceedings would be widely viewed in Turkey, ordering that English and Turkish transcripts be made available to the public. In addition to Zarrab, evidence showed the deep involvement of Halkbank's chief executive at the time, Suleyman Aslan, and other executives and government officials. And he noted that Mr. Zarrab had given "credible" and "largely unrefuted" testimony at Mr. Atilla's trial about how the conspirators had been able to "transfer or free up millions upon millions of dollars of Iranian proceeds, primarily from the sale of Iranian oil", in violation of the sanctions. "As of now, apart from my family, I have no other priorities".

A former Erdogan ally turned state enemy, Zarrab tendered an eleventh-hour guilty plea before trial that led to his dramatic testimony in NY.

And though Turkish bank and government officials were paid millions in bribes, Berman noted Atilla derived no benefit from the scheme.

Such testimony could have wide ramifications in Turkey if USA financial regulators slap Halkbank with a fine that can roil the country's economy.

Some of the evidence in the case came from an investigation conducted by Turkish police that was quashed by Erdogan's administration but subsequently provided to USA prosecutors by a disaffected policeman.

Berman has ridiculed those theories in the past, and he said that letters that he received from regular Turkish people expressed confidence in US justice.

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