Former Turkish banker gets 32 months in prison

  • Former Turkish banker gets 32 months in prison

Former Turkish banker gets 32 months in prison

A USA judge sentenced a Turkish banker to 32 months in prison over his involvement in a scheme to evade US sanctions against Iran, rejecting the prosecution's demand for a harsher sentence in a case that strained relations between two countries.

A former manager at Turkey's state-run Halkbank, Atilla was convicted by a federal jury in January for helping funnel billions to Iran in violation of USA sanctions.

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, and testified for several days as the US government's star witness against Atilla.

The Turkish banker accused of helping Iran evade US sanctions has been convicted by a jury in NY after a trial that sowed distrust between the two nations.

The judge said Atilla falsely testified at his trial on some matters but was unlikely to commit any new crimes, earned no profits directly from the fraud and had a role in the multi-year scheme that was less than many others. The defense, in contrary, expected between 46 and 57 months.

The time he spent behind bars will be deducted from the total sentence, meaning he will be free after 18 months. With this sentence, Atilla will be able to go back to Turkey next year.

The case has further strained diplomatic relations between the United States and Turkey, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has condemned it as a political attack on his government. He simply tried to downplay his role in the fake food scheme and refused to have meetings with USA officials. The sanctions-evasion case, the prosecutor said, was one of the biggest in the USA history.

"This is a case about nuclear capability by the world's biggest state sponsor of terrorism", Lockard said.

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

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. Last December, Ankara agreed to purchase advanced S-400 surface-to-air missiles from Russia-highly unusual for a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation country.

The judge said he thought that a life sentence would not be appropriate. Zarrab pleaded guilty to fraud, conspiracy and money laundering charges and testified against Atilla on behalf of the US government.

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.

Cathy Fleming, another of Atilla's lawyers, read a brief statement by her client, translated from Turkish, asking for Berman's "understanding of the situation that I and my family are in".

"Now apart from my family, I have no other priorities", he said.

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