Calling the Turkish banker a "cog in the machine" of sanctions evasion, a US federal judge sentenced Halkbank manager Hakan Atilla on Wednesday to prison term of less than three years for helping launder billions to Iran.
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. The sentence means Atilla can return to Turkey in about a year.
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 US financial dealings with oil-rich Iran, including many bank transactions. Indeed, the US-based prosecution has alleged that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan greenlighted the evasion scheme, which has prompted Erdogan to hit back with accusations that Washington is hatching a plot to undermine his country's reputation.
With ties between the United States and Turkey strained, and today's sentencing likely to compound this, expect Moscow to deepen the rift by seeking closer engagement with Ankara.
U.S. District Judge Richard Berman read out the sentence for Mehmet Hakan Atilla, the former deputy CEO of Halkbank.
"This is a case about nuclear capability by the world's biggest state sponsor of terrorism", Lockard said.
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.
But the prosecutor's strong words did not match a voice and demeanor that were otherwise listless, and with good reason.
He said Atilla gave false testimony under oath at trial and cited a number of examples in which the banker did not provide accurate information.
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.
"If Hakan Atilla is going to be declared a criminal, that would be nearly equivalent to declaring the Turkish Republic a criminal", Erdogan said.
Alsan, who has been indicted for more than a year, remains at large.
The judge said he thought that a life sentence would not be appropriate. He demanded Atilla be sent to his family and his country.
A former Erdogan ally turned state enemy, Zarrab tendered an eleventh-hour guilty plea before trial that led to his dramatic testimony in NY.
Zarrab is still awaiting sentencing, the Justice Department said.
Such testimony could have wide ramifications in Turkey if USA financial regulators slap Halkbank with a fine that can roil the country's economy. "I hope it doesn't yield a result that will completely destroy Turkish-US relations", he added.
Berman has ridiculed those theories in the past, and he said that letters that he received from regular Turkish people expressed confidence in US justice.
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