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Turkish Banker Gets 32 Months in Prison Following Iranian-Sanctions Conviction

16 May 2018

A U.S. judge sentenced Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a banker at Turkey's state-controlled Halkbank, to 32 months in prison on Wednesday after he was convicted earlier this year of taking part in a scheme to help Iran evade USA sanctions.

"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 judge said Atilla falsely testified at his trial on some matters but was unlikely to commit any new crimes, earned no profits directly from the fraud and had a role in the multi-year scheme that was less than many others.

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. The defense, in contrary, expected between 46 and 57 months.

Atilla was found guilty on January 3 of conspiring to violate United States sanctions law. The sentence means Atilla can return to Turkey in about a year. Atilla was arrested months later on a trip to the U.S.

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.

But the prosecutor's strong words did not match a voice and demeanor that were otherwise listless, and with good reason.

Judge Berman rejected the prosecution's portrayal of Atilla as the "architect of the scheme".

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

Alsan, who has been indicted for more than a year, remains at large. Last December, Ankara agreed to purchase advanced S-400 surface-to-air missiles from Russia-highly unusual for a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation country.

However, Judge Berman said before imposing his sentence that the evidence presented at trial showed Atilla was a minor player in the sanctions-dodging scheme, and "at times a reluctant one at that", largely following orders from his supervisor.

Rocco added that Berman's mercy would illustrate to the Turkish people: "Americans aren't bullies". He demanded Atilla be sent to his family and his country.

"Today is the first day of the holy month of Ramadan", Atilla wrote in prepared remarks read by attorney Cathy Fleming.

"Apart from my family, I have no other priorities", the statement said.

The Turkish government has fulminated about Zarrab and Atilla's cases, labeling them an attempted "judicial coup" on Erdogan.

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

Such testimony could have wide ramifications in Turkey if US financial regulators slap Halkbank with a fine that can roil the country's economy.

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

Berman has ridiculed those theories in the past, and he said that letters that he received from regular Turkish people expressed confidence in USA justice.

Turkish Banker Gets 32 Months in Prison Following Iranian-Sanctions Conviction