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Banker jailed 32 months for helping Iran evade U.S. sanctions

17 May 2018

A federal judge sentenced a Turkish banker to 32 months in prison Wednesday for his role in a scheme to help Iran avoid USA sanctions, the Justice Department announced.

The banker was slammed with the sentence by USA judge after he was found culpable of taking part in a scheme to help Iran evade sanctions imposed by US.

Turkish President Erdogan has said the U.S. case was based on evidence fabricated by followers of US-based preacher Fetullah Gulen, who Ankara also accuses of carrying out the failed 2016 coup attempt.

Image Mehmet Hakan Atilla testifies during his trial on corruption charges
Mehmet Hakan Atilla testifies during his trial on corruption charges in New York on Dec. 15

The case has strained relations between Washington and Ankara, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's spokesman in April calling it "a grave injustice".

According to Reuters, "U.S. prosecutors accused Atilla of joining a plot led by Reza Zarrab, a wealthy Turkish-Iranian gold trader, who U.S. authorities arrested in 2016 and later pleaded guilty to fraud, conspiracy and money laundering charges".

Lockard said the sanctions-busting scheme was "monumental in scope and momentous in timing" given the negotiations aimed at curtailing the nuclear aims of a state sponsor of terrorism and preventing a Middle East nuclear arms race.

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Prosecutors had sought a sentence of about 20 years for Atilla, a 47-year-old Turkish citizen.

Berman said the lengthier prison terms recommended would be "inappropriate, unreasonable and unfair".

"Victor Rocco, one of Atilla's lawyers, said his client would appeal his conviction, but called the sentence "fair". They said prosecutors were unable to prove Atilla had a connection with the crimes committed by Zarrab.

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A month later, a NY judge turned down a request by Atilla to acquit him of all charges due to lack of evidence, saying there was "sufficient evidence" to support the charges. He is married to Turkish pop star and TV personality Ebru Gundes.

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.

His conviction hinged on the testimony of Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab, who was arrested by USA authorities in 2016 after getting to Florida with his wife and child on a family holiday to Disney World.

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Banker jailed 32 months for helping Iran evade U.S. sanctions