Turkey slams USA sentencing of Turkish banker on Iran scheme

Turkey slams USA sentencing of Turkish banker on Iran scheme

A US judge has sentenced a Turkish banking executive to 32 months in prison after his conviction for evading sanctions on Iran in a case has strained relations between Washington and Ankara.

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, and testified for several days as the USA government's star witness against Atilla. That time will be credited toward his sentence, allowing him to return to Turkey in about a year.

Atilla, a 47-year-old Turkish citizen, was sentenced by US District Judge Richard Berman in Manhattan. Prosecutors had argued Mr. Atilla, who worked at Turkish state-owned bank Halkbank, helped the Iranian government illegally access billions of dollars of assets that had been frozen by the U.S.

The trial, which ended in January, had featured testimony about corruption at the highest levels of the Turkish government.

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

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The transactions violated U.S. Sanctions and were disguised as fraudulent gold and food transactions through Halkbank, prosecutors said. Berman said a lengthier prison term would be "inappropriate, unreasonable and unfair".

One of Atilla's lawyers, Victor Rocco, called the 32-month sentence "fair", but said the banker would appeal his conviction.

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. Zarrab pleaded guilty to fraud, conspiracy and money laundering charges and testified against Atilla on behalf of the US government. He is married to Turkish pop star and TV personality Ebru Gundes.

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

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