Published: Thu, May 17, 2018
Worldwide | By Gretchen Simon

Atilla sentenced to 32 months in United States prison over evading Iran sanctions

Atilla sentenced to 32 months in United States prison over evading Iran sanctions

Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a 47-year-old Turkish citizen, was sentenced on Wednesday by District Judge Richard Berman in NY. Atilla, who headed global banking at Turkiye Halk Bankasi AS, remains employed by the bank, according to his lawyers.

Atilla's sentencing was postponed twice and previously, prosecutors asked a federal judge to sentence him to at least 15 years in prison and a fine of $50,000- $500,000.

Atilla was found guilty of deceiving U.S. Treasury officials about Halkbank's activities and compliance efforts to avoid subjecting the bank to U.S. sanctions.

During a three-hour sentencing hearing in Manhattan federal court Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Richard Berman said he found the crime to be serious, and cited repeated instances in which he concluded Atilla perjured himself during the trial.

"Atilla appears to have been a person doing his job, sometimes reluctantly or hesitatingly, under the direction of the Halkbank general manager Mr. Aslan, who did take bribes", Berman said.

"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.

Atilla was Halkbank's point person for interacting with US officials who were enforcing the Iranian sanctions during the Obama administration.

Prosecutors identified Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab as the central figure in the scheme. He was convicted in January on five counts of bank fraud and conspiracy.

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Citing similar cases in which other national banks violated sanctions against Iran, the lawyers noted that none of the directors of those banks were arrested or sentenced but Atilla, who had no connection with the USA, was facing a prison term.

That means Atilla will spend roughly a year and a half more in prison, after deducting time the 47-year-old already served at New York's Metropolitan Correctional Center since his arrest last year.

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

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

Berman said the lengthier prison terms recommended would be "inappropriate, unreasonable and unfair".

"If Hakan Atilla is going to be declared a criminal, that would be nearly equivalent to declaring the Turkish Republic a criminal", Erdogan said.

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.

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 USA prosecutors by a disaffected policeman.

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