Turkish banker in Iran sanctions case faces sentencing

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

Atilla was found guilty on January 3 of conspiring to violate us sanctions law.

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.

He offered a detailed assessment for why reached such a verdict against the banker who stood at the trial as the only defendant while other key figures such as former Turkish Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan and Halkbank's former CEO Suleyman Aslan, were absent. His conviction followed a four-week trial in which Atilla testified in his own defense. The jury absolved him of money laundering charge.

Atilla, who worked as a deputy general manager at Halkbank, has already spent 14 months in jail.

Turkish President Erdogan has said the United States 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.

Prosecutors have said that in early 2012, Atilla was involved in a scheme to help Iran spend oil and gas revenues overseas using fraudulent gold and food transactions through Halkbank, violating U.S. sanctions.

Berman's comments appeared to stun Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Lockard, who had sought a more than 15-year sentence. The sentence means Atilla can return to Turkey in about a year.

Watched intensely from NY to Istanbul, the proceedings ended with a likewise extraordinary 32-month sentence, a prison term lower than what prosecutors or even defense attorneys requested.

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

Judge Richard Berman handed down the sentence of 32 months in a Manhattan court Wednesday. Last December, Ankara agreed to purchase advanced S-400 surface-to-air missiles from Russia-highly unusual for a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation country.

Atilla began his remarks by mentioning the holiday being widely celebrated back in his home country.

Today's sentencing will further fracture the already shaky US-Turkey relationship.

Zarrab, who has yet to be sentenced, testified during Atilla's trial that he bribed Turkish officials, and that Erdogan personally signed off on parts of the scheme while serving as Turkey's prime minister.

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

They said prosecutors were unable to prove Atilla had any connection to Zarrab's crimes. "I ask you to understand the position I and my family are in", he said.