Turkey slams U.S. sentencing of Turkish banker on Iran scheme

Atilla sentenced to 32 months in US prison over evading Iran sanctions

Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a 47-year-old Turkish banker with state-controlled Halkbank has been slammed with a 32-month jail sentence for helping Iran evade U.S. sanctions.

USA prosecutors accused Atilla, 47, of working with a Turkish-Iranian gold trader from 2010 to 2015 to help Iran evade sanctions by disguising the oil sales as fraudulent gold trades and food-aid transactions.

"This is the biggest sanction evasion prosecution in the United States that we're aware of", said Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Lockard.

But the judge decided on a dramatically shorter prison term than the life sentence recommended by US probation authorities and the 20 years urged by prosecutors.

Turkey's Foreign Ministry said Atilla's sentencing was not legitimate or credible due to what it said was false evidence and statements fabricated by supporters of USA -based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara accuses of orchestrating a failed coup in 2016.

"Victor Rocco, one of Atilla's lawyers, said his client would appeal his conviction, but called the sentence "fair".

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In the decades after the Iranian hostage crisis, in which 52 Americans were held captive from 1979 to 1981, the United States imposed increasingly stiffer sanctions prohibiting virtually all USA financial dealings with oil-rich Iran, including many bank transactions.

The defendant's lawyers had argued that federal guidelines recommended a term of just 46 to 57 months, and asked for a sentence "dramatically below" that length.

Judge Richard Berman handed down the sentence of 32 months in a Manhattan court Wednesday.

The time he spent behind bars will be deducted from the total sentence, meaning he will be free after 18 months. The sentence means Atilla can return to Turkey in about a year. They said prosecutors were unable to prove Atilla had a connection with the crimes committed by Zarrab.

Atilla was arrested in NY in March 2017, a year after Zarrab's arrest in Florida.

Prosecutors identified Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab as the central figure in the scheme.

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