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

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"This is something of an exceptional sentencing proceeding", U.S. District Judge Richard Berman said as the three-hour hearing kicked off this morning.

Atilla will be free to return to Turkey after serving his sentence.

Lawyers for Atilla had sought a sentence of less than four years. Atilla, who headed global banking at Turkiye Halk Bankasi AS, remains employed by the bank, according to his lawyers.

But the judge decided on a dramatically shorter prison term than the life sentence recommended by USA probation authorities and the 20 years urged by prosecutors. The Turkish banker accused of helping Iran evade USA sanctions has been convicted by a jury in NY after a trial that sowed distrust between the two nations.

Mehmet Hakan Atilla, 47, deputy chief executive of Turkish lender Halkbank, was convicted by a NY jury on January 3 on five counts of bank fraud and conspiracy. Zarrab pleaded guilty to fraud, conspiracy and money laundering charges and testified against Atilla on behalf of the USA government. A spokesman for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called Atilla's conviction on five charges a "scandalous verdict".

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His conviction hinged on the testimony of Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab, who was arrested by United States authorities in 2016 after getting to Florida with his wife and child on a family holiday to Disney World. "As of now, apart from my family, I have no other priorities".

"Atilla appears to have been a person doing his job, sometimes reluctantly or hesitatingly, under the direction of the Halkbank general manager Mr. Aslan, who did take bribes", Berman said. In addition to Zarrab, evidence showed the deep involvement of Halkbank's chief executive at the time, Suleyman Aslan, and other executives and government officials.

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

Prosecutors have said that in early 2012, Atilla was involved in a scheme to help Iran spend oil and gas revenues overseas using fraudulent gold and food transactions through Halkbank, violating USA sanctions.

Berman said a lengthier prison term would be "inappropriate, unreasonable and unfair".

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

"This is a case about nuclear capability by the world's foremost state sponsor of worldwide terrorism", he said at the sentencing.

Some of the evidence in the case came from an investigation conducted by Turkish police that was quashed by Erdogan's administration but subsequently provided to US prosecutors by a disaffected policeman.

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".

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