Turkish Banker in Iran Sanctions Case Sentenced to 32 Months

A New York court on Wednesday condemned the vice president of Turkish state bank Halkbank, Mehmet Hakan Atilla, on five charges related to bank fraud and conspiracy in a plan to evade US economic sanctions imposed on Iran over its nuclear program.
The court is investigating eight members close to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, accused of violating the international embargo on Iran. The process, known as the Zarrab case, poisons relations between Turkey and its NATO allies. On Thursday, the Turkish government criticized the conviction, which it considers “unjust”, and has accused the US court of “interference”.
At the trial, prosecutors determined that banker Atilla, 47, was a key person who helped Iran evade the sanctions imposed by the United States. Halkbank’s vice president was accused of conspiring with Turkish-Turkish businessman Reza Zarrab to help Iranian firms make billions of dollars in transactions in 2011 and 2012 in order to evade these sanctions.
The sentence will be released on April 11 although one of the bank’s lawyers, Victor J. Rocco, has said that Atilla will appeal the accusation, according to The New York Times. The penalty for bank fraud alone implies 30 years of imprisonment.
Turkey’s reactions to the verdict were not long in coming. The Turkish Foreign Ministry believes that the opinion represents an interference in the internal affairs of the country. In a statement published Thursday, he said the decision is based on “false evidence and likely to be politically exploited” and has questioned the credibility of the members of the jury.
The presidential spokesman in Ankara also reacted by saying that the verdict against the banker is “a scandalous decision of a scandalous case”. For his part, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag has said that the condemnation harms relations with the United States. Bozdag said in a televised interview, quoted by Reuters, that the case was “political” and that the verdict “has no chance of damaging the strong Turkish economy.”
The Turkish government’s fear is that the process will damage the credibility of the country and therefore it’s economy, especially if the judgment includes fines to the Turkish banks involved.
The New York court has been investigating the Zarrab case, a plot that helped evade US sanctions and which was based on the testimony of Turkish-Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab.
This businessman became a witness to the US government after admitting his participation in a multimillion-dollar gold-for-oil exchange scheme put in place to evade the sanctions imposed on Tehran. The testimony of Zarrab implicated Turkish ex-ministers and even President Erdogan in the plot, which in 2012, as prime minister, authorized two Turkish banks to participate in the plot, according to the testimony of the Turkish-Iranian businessman.
During the trial, Atilla denied being part of the plot and having conspired with businessman Zarrab. The jury convicted him of four of the five charges against him: bank fraud, conspiracy to evade sanctions against Iran, defraud the United States and money laundering. He was acquitted of the charge of money laundering.

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