Turkish banker sentenced to 32 months in Iran sanctions case

Lester Mason
May 16, 2018

A Turkish banker convicted of helping Iran launder money and cover up a billion-dollar scheme to evade USA sanctions was sentenced Wednesday to 32 months in prison.

Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a 47-year-old Turkish citizen, was sentenced on Wednesday by District Judge Richard Berman in NY.

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 case began in 2016 when Zarrab, a wealthy Turkish celebrity, was unexpectedly arrested at Disney World and charged with helping Iran evade sanctions through elaborate schemes to launder Iranian oil money in complex gold and food deals.

Turkish President Erdogan has said the U.S. case was based on evidence fabricated by followers of US-based preacher Fetullah Gulen, who Ankara also accuses of carrying out the failed 2016 coup attempt.

"Mr. Atilla was, as the defense suggests, somewhat of a cog in the wheel, and I would add, a somewhat reluctant one", Berman said during a three-hour court proceeding that mostly featured the judge explaining how he chose the sentence.

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

The statement came after the judge in the case, Richard Berman, sentenced Atilla to 32 months in prison with credit for time he has already served.

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.


The judge said he thought that a life sentence would not be appropriate.

Atilla will be free to return to Turkey after serving his sentence.

Rocco agreed that leniency was justified.

Cathy Fleming, another of Atilla's lawyers, read a brief statement by her client, translated from Turkish, asking for Berman's "understanding of the situation that I and my family are in".

"This is the biggest sanction evasion prosecution in the United States that we're aware of", said Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Lockard.

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.

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

Erdogan has said the US case was based on evidence fabricated by followers of USA -based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom he has also blamed for a failed 2016 coup attempt. "If Hakan Atilla is going to be declared a criminal, that would be nearly equivalent to declaring the Turkish Republic a criminal".

On Tuesday, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told Bloomberg that Atilla was "definitely innocent".

Other reports by Iphone Fresh

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