Turkish Banker to Learn Fate for Busting Iran Sanctions

Leroy Wright
May 17, 2018

A senior banker at one of Turkey's largest banks got a break from a USA 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 US financial system.

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

Prosecutors identified Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab as the central figure in the scheme.

Victor Rocco, one of Atilla's lawyers, said his client would appeal his conviction, but called the sentence "fair".

"Atilla appears to have been a person doing his job, sometimes reluctantly or hesitatingly, under the direction of the Halkbank general manager Mr. Aslan, who did take bribes", Berman said. That time will count towards his sentence, and he could be freed early for good behaviour.

The trial, which ended in January, had featured testimony about corruption at the highest levels of the Turkish government. The bank has previously said that all of its transactions have been lawful.

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

"You stole my thunder, judge", Rocco said today.

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By then, Judge Berman already had rejected the prosecution's depiction of Atilla's role and revealed that his sentence would be "appropriately lenient".

On the stand, Zarrab implicated both Erdogan in directing sanctions-busting trades and top officials at Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party in accepting millions of dollars in bribes. "As of now, apart from my family, I have no other priorities".

During a three-hour sentencing hearing in Manhattan federal court Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Richard Berman said he found the crime to be serious, and cited repeated instances in which he concluded Atilla perjured himself during the trial.

Prosecutors maintained that Atilla used his position as deputy general manager for worldwide banking at Turkish state bank Halkbank to help build and protect a scheme that enabled billions of dollars in profits from Iranian oil sales to flow through world financial markets since 2011. Zarrab pleaded guilty to fraud, conspiracy and money laundering charges and testified against Atilla on behalf of the US government.

Erdogan has said the USA case was based on evidence fabricated by followers of US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom he has blamed for a failed 2016 coup attempt.

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

"If Hakan Atilla is going to be declared a criminal, that would be nearly equivalent to declaring the Turkish Republic a criminal", Erdogan said.

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