Turkish Banker to Learn Fate for Busting Iran Sanctions

16 May, 2018, 23:58 | Author: Wade Massey
  • Atilla sentenced to 32 months in US prison over evading Iran sanctions

A former Turkish banker convicted of violating USA sanctions on Iran was sentenced in NY on Wednesday to 32 months in prison.

But on January 3, Atilla was found guilty by a jury on five counts related to conspiracy and bank fraud but was acquitted of money laundering.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Monday blasted the US government for prosecuting Atilla, calling the case "a great injustice" and claiming the USA case was based on evidence fabricated by followers Fetullah Gulen, a USA -based Muslin cleric who has also been blamed for the failed 2016 Turkish coup attempt.

Mehmet Atilla, right, testifies on December 15, 2017, during his trial on corruption charges in NY.

The case began in 2016 when Zarrab, a wealthy Turkish celebrity, was unexpectedly arrested at Disney World and charged with helping Iran evade sanctions through elaborate schemes to launder Iranian oil money in complex gold and food deals.

Under the sentencing, which started in the morning, Atilla's total incarceration is 32 months, with his time served subtracted from that total. Though the prosecution has requested a 15-year jail term, it remains unclear what sentence he will be handed.

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.

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.

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

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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. The judge praised the "exemplary life" that he said Atilla lived prior to his criminal offenses, and he held up a stack of 101 letters from Atilla's family, friends and colleagues attesting to the banker's character.

Berman's remarks echoed arguments that Atilla's defense attorney Victor Rocco made throughout last year's trial.

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.

Turkish government officials vilified the participants in the US court proceedings, with the state news media labeling Berman, prosecutors and even reporters pawns in an elaborate conspiracy by Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen, a former Erdogan ally turned state enemy.

Prosecutor Michael D. Lockard, however, pushed for a long sentence and stated that Atilla's expertise helped the scheme to succeed on a massive scale.

On the witness stand, Zarrab said he bribed Turkish officials.

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

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

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