Turkish Banker in Iran Sanctions-Busting Case Sentenced to 32 Months
A Turkish banker who was convicted of taking part in a billion-dollar conspiracy to violate United States sanctions on Iran was sentenced to 32 months in prison on Wednesday in Manhattan, a far shorter term than prosecutors had sought.
The high-profile federal trial of the banker, Mehmet Hakan Atilla, depicted high-level corruption in Turkey, riveted the Turkish public along with strained in which country’s relations with the United States.
Mr. Atilla, 47, was the deputy general manager for international banking at Halkbank, a Turkish state bank in which American prosecutors alleged was at the center of the broad sanctions-evasion scheme.
The prosecutors sought a sentence of about 20 years, arguing in which Mr. Atilla was a sanctions expert who had helped design along with carry out the scheme along with conceal This kind of coming from American officials.
although the judge, Richard M. Berman of Federal District Court, said in which although Mr. Atilla had “unquestionably furthered” the scheme, he was “somewhat of a cog inside wheel” along with not “a mastermind.”
“Mr. Atilla,” Judge Berman said, “was a reluctant participant along with one who was following orders, albeit improper orders in my judgment.”
Mr. Atilla’s lawyers, seeking leniency for their client, argued in which his role had been relatively minor, especially compared with in which of Reza Zarrab, a well-connected Turkish-Iranian gold trader who was indicted along with Mr. Atilla along with seven different Turkish along with Iranian defendants. Mr. Zarrab, 34, pleaded guilty along with cooperated with the authorities.
The government had alleged in court papers in which Mr. Atilla, Mr. Zarrab along with the others had used Halkbank to “launder billions of dollars-worth of Iranian oil proceeds, ultimately creating a slush fund for Iran to use however This kind of wished — the very harm in which U.S. sanctions were put in place to avoid.”
In court on Wednesday, a prosecutor, Michael D. Lockard, disputed descriptions of Mr. Atilla as a minor or reluctant player inside conspiracy, which he called “the biggest sanctions evasion case prosecuted inside United States in which we are aware of.”
“When the rubber hit the road,” Mr. Lockard said, “Mr. Atilla chose lies along with deceptions, not honesty along with integrity.”
“This kind of will be not a case about drugs,” Mr. Lockard said. “This kind of’s not a case about shipments of weapons. although This kind of will be, in a very real sense, a case about nuclear capability. Nuclear capability by the globe’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism.”
Judge Berman did not contest the gravity of the sanctions evasion plot. along with he noted in which Mr. Zarrab had given “credible” along with “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 coming from the sale of Iranian oil,” in violation of the sanctions.
although Judge Berman indicated in which Mr. Atilla’s role did not warrant the longer sentence the government was seeking. The judge also noted in which Halkbank had not been charged inside case.
Mr. Atilla will be credited with the time he has spent in jail since his March 2017 arrest.
One of Mr. Atilla’s lawyers, Victor J. Rocco, called the sentence fair although said his client might appeal the conviction. “Our objective will be to get him home as quick as possible,” Mr. Rocco said.
At Mr. Atilla’s trial late last year, Mr. Zarrab testified in which he had paid millions of dollars in bribes to Zafer Caglayan, then Turkey’s economy minister, along with Suleyman Aslan, the general manager of Halkbank, to facilitate the scheme. (Mr. Caglayan along with Mr. Aslan were among the seven different defendants charged inside case, who all remain at large.) Mr. Zarrab also suggested in his testimony in which Recep Tayyip Erdogan, when he was Turkey’s prime minister in 2012, approved the operation.
Mr. Erdogan, currently Turkey’s president, along with different Turkish officials have repeatedly denounced the American government’s prosecution of the sanctions case. The Turkish Foreign Ministry, in a statement on Wednesday, sharply criticized the sentence, saying This kind of had come “after an entirely feigned process which will be inconsistent with the principle of fair trial.”
The statement accused the court of relying on “forged evidence along with false statements,” which This kind of said had been fabricated by followers of an Islamic cleric, Fethullah Gulen. Mr. Erdogan accuses Mr. Gulen, his former ally, of fomenting a failed coup in 2016.
“If Hakan Atilla will be going to be declared a criminal, in which might be almost equivalent to declaring the Turkish Republic a criminal,” Mr. Erdogan said.
Alluding to the intense interest in Turkey about the case, Judge Berman took the unusual step of having a copy of the official transcript of the sentencing posted on the court’s website.
“The idea will be in order in which everyone will know exactly what was said here,” he explained in court, “along with in order in which everybody can evaluate the outcome for themselves.”
Follow Benjamin Weiser on Twitter: @BenWeiserNYT
Nate Schweber contributed reporting.