Published: Thu, May 17, 2018
Global News | By Stacy Ballard

Mehmet Hakan Atilla of Halkbank gets time in prison by United States judge

Mehmet Hakan Atilla of Halkbank gets time in prison by United States judge

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.

"I hope it doesn't yield a result that will completely destroy Turkish-U.S. relations", Mr. Erdogan told Bloomberg. The sentence means Atilla can return to Turkey in about a year.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has condemned the sentence describing it as a political attack on his government even as the case has strained diplomatic relations between the United States and Ankara.

Atilla was convicted on January 3 of conspiring to violate USA sanctions laws after a four-week trial in which the defendant testified in his defense.

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Citing similar cases in which other national banks violated sanctions against Iran, the lawyers noted that none of the directors of those banks were arrested or sentenced but Atilla, who had no connection with the USA, was facing a prison term.

The transactions violated U.S. Sanctions and were disguised as fraudulent gold and food transactions through Halkbank, prosecutors said.

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.

Prosecutors had sought a sentence of about 20 years for Atilla. Berman said a lengthier prison term would be "inappropriate, unreasonable and unfair".

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At one point, an emotional defendant wiped his face with tissues as the judge read excerpts from 101 letters written by friends, family and work associates of Atilla describing the 47-year-old husband and father as a compassionate and religious man who frequently helped others. His conviction followed a four-week trial in which Atilla testified in his own defense. Zarrab pleaded guilty to fraud, conspiracy and money laundering charges and testified against Atilla on behalf of the USA government.

Atilla was arrested in NY in March 2017, a year after Zarrab's arrest in Florida. He is married to Turkish pop star and TV personality Ebru Gundes.

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

Judge Richard Berman handed down the sentence of 32 months in a Manhattan court Wednesday.

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