Mehmet Hakan Atilla gets 32-month sentence in Iran sanctions case

Mehmet Hakan Atilla gets 32-month sentence in Iran sanctions case

In a case that strained relations between the United States and Turkey, a judge sentenced a Turkish banker on Wednesday to just over two and a half years in prison, ignoring recommendations that he spend decades behind bars for his role in helping Iran evade US economic sanctions.

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.

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. Berman said that the bigger fish included Atilla's boss, Suleyman Aslan, and gold trader Reza Zarrab, a former ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who pleaded guilty shortly before trial.

The strained relations are set to have a tangible effect on arms trade between the two countries.

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

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

Turkey's Foreign Ministry said Atilla's sentencing was not legitimate or credible due to what it said was false evidence and statements fabricated by supporters of US -based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara accuses of orchestrating a failed coup in 2016.

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Mehmet Atilla, right, testifies on December 15, 2017, during his trial on corruption charges in NY. "If Hakan Atilla is going to be declared a criminal, that would be nearly equivalent to declaring the Turkish Republic a criminal".

Rocco added that Berman's mercy would illustrate to the Turkish people: "Americans aren't bullies".

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

Zarrab, who has yet to be sentenced, said on the witness stand 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.

A former Erdogan ally turned state enemy, Zarrab tendered an eleventh-hour guilty plea before trial that led to his dramatic testimony in NY.

And though Turkish bank and government officials were paid millions in bribes, Berman noted Atilla derived no benefit from the scheme.

Some of the evidence in the case came from an investigation conducted by Turkish police that was quashed by Erdogan's administration but subsequently provided to US prosecutors by a disaffected policeman.

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