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Turkish banker to be sentenced in U.S. court, straining relations

Turkish banker to be sentenced in U.S. court, straining relations”

The Turkish banker convicted last year of facilitating a multi-billion dollar Iranian sanctions busting plot was sentenced to just 32 months in prison Wednesday by a Manhattan federal judge, disappointing prosecutors who wanted 20 years for a crime they called a national security threat.

Atilla was found guilty on January 3 of conspiring to violate USA sanctions law.

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.

A Turkish banker was sentenced on Wednesday to 32 months in a United States prison for plotting to help Iran evade American sanctions, in an explosive case straining ties between Ankara and Washington.

Mehmet Atilla, right, testifies on December 15, 2017, during his trial on corruption charges in NY. The jury absolved him of money laundering charge.

The time he spent behind bars will be deducted from the total sentence, meaning he will be free after 18 months. Berman said that the bigger fish included Atilla's boss, Suleyman Aslan, and gold trader Reza Zarrab, a former ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who pleaded guilty shortly before trial. He simply tried to downplay his role in the fake food scheme and refused to have meetings with USA officials.

Aware of the implications of the ruling for the national security and bilateral relations, the judge said the US government's position is the deterrence to keep other banks from violating sanctions.

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.

Atilla was found guilty on January 3 of conspiring to violate US sanctions law.

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.

In a 75-page petition to the court, Atilla's lawyers asked the judge for a "fair and merciful" sentence of between four to five years, more than the under-three-year sentence given Wednesday. "If Hakan Atilla is going to be declared a criminal, that would be nearly equivalent to declaring the Turkish Republic a criminal". Last December, Ankara agreed to purchase advanced S-400 surface-to-air missiles from Russia-highly unusual for a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation country.

Today's sentencing will further fracture the already shaky US-Turkey relationship.

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

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".

Zarrab, who has yet to be sentenced, said on the witness stand during Atilla's trial that he bribed Turkish officials, and that Erdogan personally signed off on parts of the scheme while serving as Turkey's prime minister.

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



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