Turkey slams US sentencing of Turkish banker on Iran scheme

In this courtroom sketch Mehmet Hakan Atilla, second from left, listens to the judge during his sentencing, flanked by his attorneys Cathy Fleming, left, and Victor Rocco as Atilla’s wife, upper right, listens to the proceedings Wednesday, May 16, 2018, in New York. US District Judge Richard Berman imposed a sentence of 32 months in prison on the Turkish banker convicted of helping Iran evade US sanctions. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)
Updated 17 May 2018
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Turkey slams US sentencing of Turkish banker on Iran scheme

  • Turkish government spokesman Bekir Bozdag said Thursday on Twitter that no country has the right to “judge Turkey or Turkish institutions or punish Turkey.”
  • The trial of the banker has strained the ties further, even though Atilla received a sentence that was seen as lenient

ISTANBUL: Turkey has criticized the sentencing of a Turkish banker in the United States over his role in helping Iran evade US economic sanctions, in a case that has further strained ties between the two countries.
In a statement late Wednesday, the Foreign Ministry called the trial against Mehmet Hakan Atilla, an employee of Turkish state-run Halkbank, “an entirely feigned process which is inconsistent with the principle of fair trial.”
Turkish government spokesman Bekir Bozdag said Thursday on Twitter that no country has the right to “judge Turkey or Turkish institutions or punish Turkey.”
Bozdag accused the US and the court that tried the case of a plot against Turkey carried out in tandem with a US-based Muslim cleric, Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey accuses of leading a failed coup in 2016.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accuses Gulen of attempting to overthrow the Turkish government and has demanded that the US extradite him. Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania, has denied the allegations. His freedom in the US has angered Turkey and caused a rift between the NATO allies.
The trial of the banker has strained the ties further, even though Atilla received a sentence that was seen as lenient.
A US judge on Wednesday ordered Atilla to spend 32 months in prison, including 14 months he has already served after his arrest last year during a business trip to New York on behalf of Halkbank. The sentence means Atilla can return to Turkey in about a year.
US probation authorities had called for a life sentence and prosecutors had argued for a 20-year sentence.
Prosecutors maintained that Atilla used his position as Halkbank’s deputy general manager for international banking to help build and protect a scheme that enabled billions of dollars in profits from Iranian oil sales to flow through world financial markets since 2011.
The US judge justified the shorted sentence arguing that Atilla was just a reluctant “cog in the wheel” of the alleged scheme.
The trial, which ended in January, had featured testimony about corruption at top levels of the Turkish government.
The key witness in the case was Reza Zarrab, an Iranian-Turkish gold trader, who testified he paid over $50 million in bribes to a former Turkish finance minister to help the sanction-busting scheme.
But the testimony that drew Turkey’s fury was from a former Turkish deputy police chief involved in a 2013 corruption investigation into the Zarrab scheme that broadened to include top Turkish politicians.
The government has accused Huseyin Korkmaz of links to Gulen and had dubbed the 2013 investigation a “judicial coup” against the government.
The Foreign Ministry said the evidence presented “eradicated the legitimacy of the trial.”
It also said the court made an “unprecedented decision” in the implementation of US sanctions laws by convicting and sentencing Atilla, “a foreign government official.”


For Iranians, economic crisis looms larger than US tensions

Updated 19 May 2019
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For Iranians, economic crisis looms larger than US tensions

  • Iran’s 80 million people struggle to buy meat, medicine and other staples of daily life
  • Many pointed to the economy, not the possible outbreak of war

TEHRAN: Across Iran’s capital, the talk always seems to come back to how things may get worse.
Battered by US sanctions and its depreciating rial currency, Iran’s 80 million people struggle to buy meat, medicine and other staples of daily life.
Many pointed to the economy, not the possible outbreak of war, as Iran’s major concern. Iran’s rial currency traded at 32,000 to $1 at the time of the 2015 nuclear deal. Now it is at 148,000, and many have seen their life’s savings wiped out.
Nationwide, the unemployment rate is 12 percent. For youth it’s even worse, with a quarter of all young people unemployed, according to Iran’s statistic center.
“The economic situation is very bad, very bad. Unemployment is very high, and those who had jobs have lost theirs,” said Sadeghi, the housewife. “Young people can’t find good jobs, or get married, or become independent.”
Sores Maleki, a 62-year-old retired accountant, said talks with the US to loosen sanctions would help jumpstart Iran’s economy.
“We should go and talk to America with courage and strength. We are able to do that, others have done it,” Maleki said. “We can make concessions and win concessions. We have no other choice.”
But such negotiations will be difficult, said Reza Forghani, a 51-year-old civil servant. He said Iran needed to get the US to “sign a very firm contract that they can’t escape and have to honor.” Otherwise, Iran should drop out of the nuclear deal.
“When someone refuses to keep promises and commitments, you can tolerate it a couple of times, but then certainly you can’t remain committed forever. You will react,” Forghani said. “So I don’t think we should remain committed to the deal until the end.”
Yet for Iran’s youth, many of whom celebrated the signing of the 2015 nuclear deal in the streets, the situation now feels more akin to a funeral. Many openly discuss their options to obtain a visa — any visa — to get abroad.
“Young people have a lot of stress and the future is unknown,” said Hamedzadeh, the 20-year-old civil servant. “The future is so unknown that you can’t plan. The only thing they can do is to somehow leave Iran and build a life abroad.”