Mehmet Hakan Atilla gets 32-month sentence in Iran sanctions case

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

A USA judge sentenced a Turkish banker to 32 months in prison over his involvement in a scheme to evade US sanctions against Iran, rejecting the prosecution's demand for a harsher sentence in a case that strained relations between two countries.

"Mr. Atilla was, as the defense suggests, somewhat of a cog in the wheel, and I would add, a somewhat reluctant one", Berman said during a three-hour court proceeding that mostly featured the judge explaining how he chose the sentence.

The transactions violated U.S. Sanctions and were disguised as fraudulent gold and food transactions through Halkbank, prosecutors said.

Atilla was found guilty on January 3 of conspiring to violate USA sanctions law.

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

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.

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.

Lawyers for Atilla had sought a sentence of less than four years.

Judge Berman rejected the prosecution's portrayal of Atilla as the "architect of the scheme".

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

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

The judge said he thought that a life sentence would not be appropriate.

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.

Atilla began his remarks by mentioning the holiday being widely celebrated back in his home country.

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

Citing similar cases in which other national banks violated sanctions against Iran, the lawyers noted that none of the directors of those banks were arrested or sentenced but Atilla, who had no connection with the US, was facing a prison term.

A former Erdogan ally turned state enemy, Zarrab tendered an eleventh-hour guilty plea before trial that led to his dramatic testimony in NY. They said prosecutors were unable to prove Atilla had any connection to Zarrab's crimes.

Berman has ridiculed those theories in the past, and he said that letters that he received from regular Turkish people expressed confidence in US justice.

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