US Court Sentences Turkish Banker in Iran Sanctions Case

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Atilla was convicted of five counts including conspiracy to launder money and sanctions evasion.

Watched intensely from NY to Istanbul, the proceedings ended with a likewise extraordinary 32-month sentence, a prison term lower than what prosecutors or even defense attorneys requested. 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.

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.

Federal prosecutors had sought a sentence of at least 15 years for Mehmet Hakan Atilla, 47.

"This is the biggest sanctions-evasion case prosecuted in the United States that we're aware of", Lockard said, sounding dispirited by the judge's opening remarks.

Lockard said the sanctions-busting scheme was "monumental in scope and momentous in timing" given the negotiations aimed at curtailing the nuclear aims of a state sponsor of terrorism and preventing a Middle East nuclear arms race.

But the prosecutor's strong words did not match a voice and demeanor that were otherwise listless, and with good reason.

Judge Berman noted the feverish pitch of some observers of Atilla's trial, particularly in Turkey, when he promised to make a transcript of the sentencing available to the public later Wednesday.

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

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Atilla will get credit for the 14 months he's already spent in prison. Atilla, who headed global banking at Turkiye Halk Bankasi AS, remains employed by the bank, according to his lawyers.

However, Judge Berman said before imposing his sentence that the evidence presented at trial showed Atilla was a minor player in the sanctions-dodging scheme, and "at times a reluctant one at that", largely following orders from his supervisor.

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.

Berman also said Atilla "appears to have led an exemplary life in Turkey", pointing to more than a hundred letters he received from Atilla's family and friends in his support.

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

But Judge Berman indicated that Mr. Atilla's role did not warrant the longer sentence the government was seeking.

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

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

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