Turkish Banker to Learn Fate for Busting Iran Sanctions

Cheryl Sanders
May 17, 2018

Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a 47-year-old Turkish citizen, was sentenced on Wednesday by District Judge Richard Berman in NY.

Alsan, who has been indicted for more than a year, remains at large.

The transactions violated U.S. Sanctions and were disguised as fraudulent gold and food transactions through Halkbank, prosecutors said.

U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman ordered Mehmet Hakan Atilla to spend 32 months in prison, including 14 months he has already served after his arrest previous year during a business trip to NY on behalf of his employer, Turkey's state-run Halkbank.

In January, a federal jury found Mehmet Hakan Atilla guilty of bank fraud, sanctions evasion and other crimes.

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

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

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

Sarraf, who was arrested in the U.S.in 2016 and accused of violating US sanctions on Iran, pleaded guilty in the case last October and cooperated with prosecutors.

His conviction hinged on the testimony of Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab, who was arrested by USA authorities in 2016 after getting to Florida with his wife and child on a family holiday to Disney World.

They said Atilla, who worked as deputy general manager at Halkbank, was involved in a scheme to help Iran spend oil and gas revenues overseas using fraudulent gold and food transactions through Halkbank, violating USA sanctions. Zarrab pleaded guilty to fraud, conspiracy and money laundering charges and testified against Atilla on behalf of the US government. He was arrested in March 2017 on a business trip to NY to promote a securities offering and has been held in prison ever since.

Under federal sentencing guidelines, Atilla faced life in prison because of the amount involved in the scheme.

Zarrab, who is yet to be sentenced, testified for several days as the United States government's star witness against Atilla.

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

The case has strained diplomatic relations between the United States and Turkey.

Berman said a lengthier prison term would be "inappropriate, unreasonable and unfair".

Turkish government officials vilified the participants in the US court proceedings, with the state news media labeling Berman, prosecutors and even reporters pawns in an elaborate conspiracy by Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen, a former Erdogan ally turned state enemy.

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

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