Turkish banker sentenced to 32 months in United States prison for sanction evasion

Turkish banker to be sentenced in US court, straining relations

Federal prosecutors had sought a sentence of at least 15 years for Mehmet Hakan Atilla, 47.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Monday blasted the US government for prosecuting Atilla, calling the case "a great injustice" and claiming the USA case was based on evidence fabricated by followers Fetullah Gulen, a USA -based Muslin cleric who has also been blamed for the failed 2016 Turkish coup attempt.

Top Turkish bankers and politicians helped Iran evade severe economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. The most severe sanctions were lifted after Iran agreed to suspend its nuclear program in a multinational deal that took effect in January 2016.

Victor Rocco, one of Atilla's lawyers, said his client would appeal his conviction, but called the sentence "fair".

Atilla will get credit for the 14 months he's already spent in prison.

In addition to Zarrab, evidence showed the deep involvement of Halkbank's chief executive at the time, Suleyman Aslan, and other executives and government officials. The bank has previously said that all of its transactions have been lawful. The sentence means Atilla can return to Turkey in about a year.

"We appreciate the thought and comprehensiveness of the judge's sentence", Rocco said. And he noted that Mr. Zarrab had given "credible" and "largely unrefuted" testimony at Mr. Atilla's trial about how the conspirators had been able to "transfer or free up millions upon millions of dollars of Iranian proceeds, primarily from the sale of Iranian oil", in violation of the sanctions.

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On the witness stand, Zarrab said he bribed Turkish officials. "As of now, apart from my family, I have no other priorities".

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. His conviction followed a four-week trial in which Atilla testified in his own defense.

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.

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

Erdogan has said the US case was based on evidence fabricated by followers of USA -based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom he has 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. "If Hakan Atilla is going to be declared a criminal, that would be nearly equivalent to declaring the Turkish Republic a criminal".

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