Former Turkish banker gets 32 months in prison

Banker jailed 32 months for helping Iran evade US sanctions

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.

Atilla, a 47-year-old Turkish citizen, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Richard Berman in Manhattan.

The case has strained already tense relations between Turkey and the U.S. Erdogan told Bloomberg that "if Hakan Atilla is going to be declared a criminal, that would be nearly equivalent to declaring the Turkish Republic a criminal".

A former manager at Turkey's state-run Halkbank, Atilla was convicted by a federal jury in January for helping funnel billions to Iran in violation of US sanctions.

The ministry accused the USA court of taking false evidence and statements fabricated by supporters of Fethullah Gülen, the leader of the Gülensit terror Group (FETÖ) accused of orchestrating a failed coup in 2016, and said Atilla had been sentenced despite being innocent. That time will count toward his sentence, and he could be freed early for good behavior. The sanctions-evasion case, the prosecutor said, was one of the biggest in the USA history.

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.

Berman also said Atilla "appears to have led an exemplary life in Turkey", pointing to more than a hundred letters he received from Atilla's family and friends in his support.

Atilla's lawyer Victor J. Rocco urged the judge to show to the world that "Americans are not bullies".

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

"Now apart from my family, I have no other priorities", he said.

Sarraf, who was arrested in the U.S.in 2016 and accused of violating US sanctions on Iran, pleaded guilty in the case last October and cooperated with prosecutors. His conviction followed a four-week trial in which Atilla testified in his own defense.

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.

Zarrab testified that he paid over $50 million in bribes to Turkey's finance minister to help the sanctions-busting scheme flourish after he initially encountered resistance from a Halkbank executive who feared he was "too popular" to carry out trades involving Iranian money without drawing attention to them.

Erdogan has said the USA case was based on evidence fabricated by followers of US -based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom he has also blamed for a failed 2016 coup attempt.

On Tuesday, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told Bloomberg that Atilla was "definitely innocent".

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