Turkish banker to be sentenced in USA court, straining relations

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

Turkish Banker Gets 32 Months in Prison Following Iranian-Sanctions Conviction

A USA judge sentenced Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a banker at Turkey's state-controlled Halkbank, to 32 months in prison on Wednesday after he was found guilty earlier this year of taking part in a scheme to help Iran evade us sanctions.

Mehmet Hakan Atilla was convicted in January for participating in a plot to help Iran spend billions of its oil and gas revenues in other other countries through Halkbank, Turkey's state-controlled bank.

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. His conviction followed a four-week trial in which Atilla testified in his own defence. He was acquitted on one count of money laundering.

The case has strained diplomatic relations between the United States and Turkey, and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has condemned it as a political attack on his government.

Under the sentencing, which started in the morning, Atilla's total incarceration is 32 months, with his time served subtracted from that total.

However, prosecutors on Wednesday noted that the government did not seek a 105-year sentence, or a life sentence for Atilla, adding that it recommended a sentence of about 20 years, some 80 years below guidelines. Atilla was arrested months later on a trip to the U.S.

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.

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.

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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.

"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. "If Hakan Atilla is going to be declared a criminal, that would be nearly equivalent to declaring the Turkish Republic a criminal".

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

By then, Judge Berman already had rejected the prosecution's depiction of Atilla's role and revealed that his sentence would be "appropriately lenient". He demanded Atilla be sent to his family and his country.

Far away from his wife, son and aging parents, Atilla pleaded for a quick return to his family.

The wealthy Zarrab, arrested a year before Atilla, initially attracted considerable attention to the case. Those included Turkish government officials and Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab, who pleaded guilty and testified against Atilla.

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

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

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