Friday, 21 September, 2018

Turkish banker gets 32 months prison in U.S. case over Iran sanctions

Mehmet Hakan Atilla was found guilty of helping Iran avoid US sanctions Mehmet Hakan Atilla was found guilty of helping Iran avoid US sanctions
Kenny Thornton | 17 May, 2018, 04:11

Prosecutors maintained that Atilla used his position as Halkbank's deputy general manager for global 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.

According to prosecutors, the central figure in the scheme was wealthy Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab, who pleaded guilty to fraud, conspiracy and money laundering charges, and testified for several days as the US government's star witness against Atilla.

Turkish President Erdogan has said the USA 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.

Former official at Turkey's Halkbank to serve 32 months in prison after conviction for helping Iran evade United States sanctions.

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.

Atilla was Halkbank's point person for interacting with USA officials who were enforcing the Iranian sanctions during the Obama administration.

Zarrab, 34, initially pleaded not guilty then decided to make a deal, becoming a U.S. government witness after admitting being involved in the multi-billion-dollar gold-for-oil scheme to subvert USA economic sanctions against Iran.

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 convicted of five counts including conspiracy to launder money and sanctions evasion.

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There was no immediate response to the sentencing from the Turkish government or Halkbank.

The wealthy Zarrab, arrested a year before Atilla, initially attracted considerable attention to the case.

Lawyers for Atilla said they would nonetheless appeal.

Berman said a lengthier prison term would be "inappropriate, unreasonable and unfair". "I hope it doesn't yield a result that will completely destroy Turkish-US relations", he added.

One of the prosecutors, Michael Lockard, argued that Atilla was a significant figure in the conspiracy, noting that participants referred to one of the laundering strategies as "Atilla's method", and that his three-year involvement lasted longer than any other employee's at Halkbank.

"This is a case about nuclear capability by the world's foremost state sponsor of worldwide terrorism", he said at the sentencing.

Judge Berman did not contest the gravity of the sanctions evasion plot.

The prosecutors had called for a 20-year sentence, but U.S. District Judge Richard Berman said the scheme was most likely engineered by people far more powerful than Atilla.

On the witness stand, Zarrab said he bribed Turkish officials.

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