US court convicts Turkish banker Hakan Atilla in Iran sanctions-busting trial

US court convicts Turkish banker Hakan Atilla in Iran sanctions-busting trial

Jury convicted Turkish banker Mehmet Hakan Atilla in a U.S. sanctions-busting case that has increased tensions between the two countries.

A Manhattan court has found a Turkish banker Mehmet Hakan Atilla guilty of helping Iran evade US sanctions. Atilla was convicted on five of six counts on the testimony of a gold trader who pleaded guilty in return for a lighter sentence.

Prosecuters accused Atilla who was an executive at Turkey's majority state-owned Halkbank of being part of a sprawling sanctions-busting deal which included bribes to Turkish government officials.

With the knowledge of several banking officials the deal allowed Iranian money to be moved away from buying food and medicines for domestic consumption and instead to be used to pay off international debts through illegal proceeds from oil sales.

COURT PLANS TO SENTENCE ATILLA IN APRIL

Iranian-Turkish gold trader Reza Zarrab said that he helped move billions of euros to accounts controlled by Iran. Atilla was a senior official at Halkbank who helped coordinate the scheme. Starting in 2012, Zarrab testified, he paid Turkey’s then-economy minister Mehmet Zafer Caglayan a small fortune to help him hide the money transfers by making them look like gold purchases.

The court plans to sentence Atilla in April 11. There is no sentencing date for Zarrab.

Zarrab said that when he appealed to Caglayan for help setting the scheme in motion, the minister said he would do it if they could split the profits evenly. He also testified that he was told Turkey’s president, Tayyip Erdogan, knew about the plot.

Turkey’s government has said Caglayan acted within the law, and accused the United States of taking Zarrab “hostage’’ to damage the country’s reputation.

Atilla’s lawyer, Victor Rocco, has called him a “helpless pawn,” but the jury was not swayed. He was convicted of five charges, including conspiracy, and acquitted of a money laundering charge.

Joon H. Kim, the acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, issued a warning to international bankers: “If you lie repeatedly to U.S. Treasury officials and fabricate documents — all as part of a secret scheme to smuggle billions of dollars in Iranian oil money past the U.S. sanctions net — as Atilla did, then you should be prepared for the consequences.’’

Shortly before the trial began in November, Zarrab, 34, pleaded guilty to seven charges. He said he agreed to cooperate after failed attempts to broker a prisoner swap between the United States and Turkey.

The trial also featured testimony from a former Turkish police official whose government corruption probe was quashed.

Turkey has rejected the court's findings. (EVRENSEL DAILY)

Last update: 04 January 2018 09:08
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