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Turkish Banker Gets 32 Months in Prison Following Iranian-Sanctions Conviction

16 May 2018

The Turkish Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday a USA court's sentencing of Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a banker at Turkish state-lender Halkbank, to 32 months in prison was not legitimate or credible due to "fake evidence and incorrect statements" during the trial.

U.S. District Judge Richard Berman read out the sentence for Mehmet Hakan Atilla, the former deputy CEO of Halkbank.

Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a senior executive at state-run Halkbank in Turkey, faced charges of co-conspiring along with Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab to bust USA sanctions through a complex scheme at the bank.

According to prosecutors, the central figure in the scheme was wealthy Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab, who pleaded guilty to fraud, conspiracy and money-laundering charges.

Turkish President Erdogan has said the USA 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.

Lawyers for Atilla said they would nonetheless appeal.

The time he spent behind bars will be deducted from the total sentence, meaning he will be free after 18 months.

Lawyers for Atilla had sought a sentence of less than four years.

However, prosecutors on Wednesday noted that the government did not seek a 105-year sentence, or a life sentence for Atilla, adding that it recommended a sentence of about 20 years, some 80 years below guidelines.

"We appreciate the thought and comprehensiveness of the judge's sentence", Rocco said. The bank has previously said that all of its transactions have been lawful.

Prosecutor Michael D. Lockard, however, pushed for a long sentence and stated that Atilla's expertise helped the scheme to succeed on a massive scale.

Rocco agreed that leniency was justified.

The ministry accused the USA court of taking false evidence and statements fabricated by supporters of Fethullah Gülen, the leader of the Gülensit terror Group (FETÖ) accused of orchestrating a failed coup in 2016, and said Atilla had been sentenced despite being innocent. "I ask you to understand the position I and my family are in", he said.

But on January 3, Atilla was found guilty by a jury on five counts related to conspiracy and bank fraud but was acquitted of money laundering.

In testimony that made a big splash in Turkey, Zarrab said he made $100 million to $150 million from the scheme and detailed corruption implicating Erdogan and his ministers, while Atilla's lawyers said he was a "pawn" being used to stage a show trial in absentia of Erdogan's government.

Erdogan has said the US case was based on evidence fabricated by followers of USA -based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom he has also blamed for a failed 2016 coup attempt.

On Tuesday, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told Bloomberg that Atilla was "definitely innocent". "If Hakan Atilla is going to be declared a criminal, that would be nearly equivalent to declaring the Turkish Republic a criminal".

Turkish Banker Gets 32 Months in Prison Following Iranian-Sanctions Conviction