US prosecutor asks judge to imprison Turkish banker for over 15 years

US prosecutor asks judge to imprison Turkish banker for over 15 years

NEW YORK - Reuters
US prosecutor asks judge to imprison Turkish banker for over 15 years

United States prosecutors on April 4 asked a federal judge to sentence a Turkish banker to about 20 years in prison for helping Iran evade U.S. sanctions.

Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a former executive at Turkey’s state-controlled Halkbank, had been convicted by a federal jury in Manhattan in January, in a case that strained diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Turkey.

Shares in Halkbank were up as much as 18 percent in the morning trade and stood at 10.04 Turkish Liras per share on April 5 at noon, up 11 percent from the market close on April 4.

The defendant is to be sentenced on April 11 by U.S. District Judge Richard Berman. Lawyers for Atilla did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Atilla, a former deputy general manager at Halkbank, had been accused of conspiring with gold trader Reza Zarrab and others to help Iran escape U.S. sanctions, through the use of fraudulent gold and food transactions.

Zarrab pleaded guilty and testified against Atilla, describing a sprawling bribery scheme carried out with the blessing of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

In a court filing, U.S. prosecutors said the seriousness of Atilla’s crimes justifies a sentence “comparable” to the roughly 20 years imposed in analogous cases.

They said any sentence should be longer than 15 years and eight months, and that federal sentencing guidelines recommended a 105-year term, effectively a life sentence.

“At a time when the United States and the community of nations were engaged in the momentous undertaking of depriving the government of Iran of funding for its malign and deadly activities,” including the alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons and support for terrorist groups, “Atilla was a key player in massively undermining those efforts,” prosecutors said.

Turkey reacts 

Ankara has reacted to the sentence U.S. prosecutors demanded for Atilla.

“We strongly condemn and reject this decision,” Erdoğan’s spokesperson İbrahim Kalın told reporters at a press conference in Ankara on April 5.

“This is a serious injustice to Atilla,” Kalın said, adding that the case is a legal scandal.

“We will closely follow the developments. The sentence was demanded by prosecutors and we have yet to see the judge’s decision,” he said.