Tuesday, 17 July, 2018


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

Mehmet Hakan Atilla of Halkbank gets time in prison by U.S. judge Mehmet Hakan Atilla gets 32-month sentence in Iran sanctions case
Bennie Garza | 17 May, 2018, 02:05

A former Turkish banker convicted of violating USA sanctions on Iran was sentenced in NY on Wednesday to 32 months in prison.

"This is something of an exceptional sentencing proceeding", U.S. District Judge Richard Berman said as the three-hour hearing kicked off this morning.

The case has further strained diplomatic relations between the United States and Turkey, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has condemned it as a political attack on his government.

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

Zarrab testified that he paid over $50 million in bribes to Turkey's finance minister to help the sanctions-busting scheme flourish after he initially encountered resistance from a Halkbank executive who feared he was "too popular" to carry out trades involving Iranian money without drawing attention to them.

On Wednesday, Judge Berman said he intends to impose a sentence of 32 months of incarceration with credit for the time already served. 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. Though the prosecution has requested a 15-year jail term, it remains unclear what sentence he will be handed.

Zarrab, who was arrested in the U.S.in March 2016 on charges of violating US sanctions on Iran, pleaded guilty in the case last October, cooperated with prosecutors and testified against Atilla.

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.

Rocco agreed that leniency was justified.

Atilla's lawyer Victor J. Rocco urged the judge to show to the world that "Americans are not bullies".

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

Mehmet Hakan Atilla, 47, deputy chief executive of Turkish lender Halkbank, was convicted by a NY jury on January 3 on five counts of bank fraud and conspiracy.

Mehmet Atilla, right, testifies on December 15, 2017, during his trial on corruption charges in NY.

Prosecutors maintained that Atilla used his position as Halkbank's deputy general manager for worldwide banking 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 is still awaiting sentencing, the Justice Department said.

Erdoğan has said the US case was based on evidence fabricated by followers of USA -based cleric Fethullah Gülen, who is also blamed for a failed 2016 coup attempt.

The Turkish president has repeatedly condemned Atilla's conviction, most recently on Tuesday in an interview with Bloomberg Television.

The judge said there will be no supervised release and Atilla would be able to go back to his country after completing his sentence.

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