A United States judge sentenced Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a Turkish banker at Turkey's Halkbank, to 32 months in prison on Wednesday after he was found guilty of taking part in a scheme to help Iran evade U.S. sanctions.
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.
According to prosecutors, the central figure in the scheme was wealthy Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab, who pleaded guilty to fraud, conspiracy and money-laundering charges.
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. He was acquitted on one count of money laundering.
The case has strained diplomatic relations between the USA and Turkey, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has condemned it as a political attack on his government.
Lawyers for Atilla had sought a sentence of less than four years.
Under the sentencing, which started in the morning, Atilla's total incarceration is 32 months, with his time served subtracted from that total. He simply tried to downplay his role in the fake food scheme and refused to have meetings with US officials.
Atilla was found guilty of deceiving U.S. Treasury officials about Halkbank's activities and compliance efforts to avoid subjecting the bank to U.S. sanctions. The defense, in contrary, expected between 46 and 57 months.
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.
Turkish banker sentenced to 32 months in United States prison for sanction evasion
Judge Richard Berman handed down the sentence of 32 months in a Manhattan court 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.
"Mr. Atilla was neither a chief architect nor a beneficiary of the various schemes", the judge said. Last December, Ankara agreed to purchase advanced S-400 surface-to-air missiles from Russia-highly unusual for a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation country.
"You stole my thunder, judge", Rocco said today. He demanded Atilla be sent to his family and his country.
Sarraf, who was arrested in the U.S.in 2016 and accused of violating USA sanctions on Iran, pleaded guilty in the case last October and cooperated with prosecutors.
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.
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.
"Now apart from my family, I have no other priorities", he said.
Atilla was arrested in NY in March 2017, a year after Zarrab's arrest in Florida.