US jury finds Turkish banker Hakan Atilla guilty on five counts
Hakan Atilla, the former deputy chief executive officer of Turkish state lender Halkbank, was found guilty on Jan. 3 by a jury in New York on five charges related to conspiracy and bank fraud but was acquitted of money laundering.
The verdict by a panel of six men and six women against Atilla, 47, was reached after more than three weeks of testimony and four days of deliberation.
The guilty counts include violating U.S. sanctions against Iran, crimes to deceive the U.S. and defrauding U.S. banks.
“I am disappointed that the jury believed in [Reza] Zarrab and they did not see the picture. It is disappointing for people who like Atilla,” Katy Fleming, one of Atilla’s lawyers told a small group of reporters after the verdict, referring to Reza Zarrab, the government’s star witness and on whose testimony the case hinged.
The Turkish-Iranian businessman was arrested in the U.S. in 2016 on similar charges and pleaded guilty just prior to the start of the trial before he testified for prosecutors against Atilla.
The case has driven a further wedge between Washington and Ankara that have had strained relations in the recent past. Turkey has accused the U.S. of judicial overreach in the case.
Defense lawyer Victor Rocco said his client was a victim of “some bizarre game.”
“He is caught up in the middle of something. This was Reza’s show. It has nothing to do with Atilla,” he said outside the court following the verdict.
“He is innocent and he intends to continue to fight,” Rocco added.
Judge Richard Berman will sentence Atilla on April 11 but defense attorneys said they would immediately appeal the verdict after sentencing.
Atilla’s defense team tried unsuccessfully to obtain a mistrial on grounds that a report was introduced late in the trial and it was not included in the list of evidence material at the start of the trial.
Atilla was arrested after visiting the U.S. last March on a business trip. Zarrab, a celebrity of sorts in Turkey because of his wealth and marriage to Turkish pop star and TV personality Ebru Gündeş, was arrested in 2016 when he flew to Florida to take his wife and child to Disney World.
Before the trial, Turkey officials called Zarrab, 34, a “hostage.” Zarrab hired former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and ex-Attorney General Michael Mukasey to meet with Erdoğan and U.S. officials and try to broker a diplomatic solution to the charges. When that effort failed, Zarrab agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.
On the witness stand, Zarrab said that in addition to the bribes he paid over the gold deals, he made even more payoffs to government officials after he was arrested in Turkey in a corruption case there in 2013.
A former Turkish police official, Hüseyin Korkmaz, testified that the corruption investigation he had built against Zarrab and others in the gold-for-oil case was promptly quashed. Korkmaz said he was arrested and imprisoned for 18 months, then had to flee Turkey, taking the evidence with him. Some of that material, which included documents and recorded phone calls, was introduced at Atilla’s trial.