Turkish Banker to Learn Fate for Busting Iran Sanctions

Atilla sentenced to 32 months in US prison over evading Iran sanctions

Judge Richard Berman said on Wednesday that he plans to sentence Turkish banker Mehmet Hakan Atilla, who is charged with helping Iran evade US sanctions, to 32 months in prison.

Mehmet Hakan Atilla was convicted in January for participating in a plot to help Iran spend billions of its oil and gas revenues in other other countries through Halkbank, Turkey's state-controlled bank.

There was no immediate response to the sentencing from the Turkish government or Halkbank. His conviction followed a four-week trial in which Atilla testified in his own defense.

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.

On Wednesday, Judge Berman said he intends to impose a sentence of 32 months of incarceration with credit for the time already served.

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.

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 USA financial dealings with oil-rich Iran, including many bank transactions. Atilla was arrested months later on a trip to the U.S. The defense, in contrary, expected between 46 and 57 months.

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

"This is a case about nuclear capability by the world's biggest state sponsor of terrorism", Lockard said.

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

"Mr. Atilla was neither a chief architect nor a beneficiary of the various schemes", the judge said. The judge praised the "exemplary life" that he said Atilla lived prior to his criminal offenses, and he held up a stack of 101 letters from Atilla's family, friends and colleagues attesting to the banker's character. Last December, Ankara agreed to purchase advanced S-400 surface-to-air missiles from Russia-highly unusual for a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation country. He demanded Atilla be sent to his family and his country.

Atilla's sentencing was postponed twice and previously, prosecutors asked a federal judge to sentence him to at least 15 years in prison and a fine of $50,000- $500,000.

A former Erdogan ally turned state enemy, Zarrab tendered an eleventh-hour guilty plea before trial that led to his dramatic testimony in NY. Those included Turkish government officials and Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab, who pleaded guilty and testified against Atilla. "I ask you to understand the position I and my family are in", he said.

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.

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