US court upholds Turkish banker’s conviction in Iran case

Mehmet Hakan Atilla, an executive from state-controlled Halkbank, right, with Turkish Treasury and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak, at Istanbul International Airport, July 24, 2019. (Reuters)
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Updated 20 July 2020

US court upholds Turkish banker’s conviction in Iran case

  • Atilla’s arrest and prosecution drew an outcry from high-level Turkish officials, including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
  • Atilla was an executive at Halkbank when he was sentenced to two and a half years in prison – he has since returned to Turkey

NEW YORK: A Turkish banker was properly convicted of helping Iran evade US sanctions in a case that strained relations with Turkey, a federal appeals panel said Monday.
The ruling by the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan concluded that Mehmet Hakan Atilla received a fair trial after he was arrested in 2017 during a business trip to the United States.
A three-judge panel said there was sufficient evidence to support the jury’s guilty verdict, including wiretapped conversations and hundreds of documents establishing that “Atilla was a knowing participant in the sanctions evasion scheme that involved routing hundreds of millions of dollars through the US financial system.”
Atilla’s arrest and prosecution drew an outcry from high-level Turkish officials, including President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who called Atilla’s conviction on five charges a “scandalous verdict.”
The prosecution attracted new attention recently with the publication of a book by John Bolton, President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser.
In the book, Bolton claims that Trump assured Erdogan in 2018 that he would “take care of things” regarding a probe of a Turkish firm believed to be Turkey’s state-run Halkbank. The bank has since been criminally charged and pleaded not guilty to evading US sanctions. A March 2021 trial date has been set.
Atilla was an executive at Halkbank when he was sentenced to two and a half years in prison. The sentence was far below the life term recommended by US probation authorities and the 20 years urged by prosecutors.
He has since returned to Turkey. A message was left Monday seeking comment from his Washington-based attorney.
The trial of Atilla featured testimony by wealthy Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab, who pleaded guilty in a deal with prosecutors. Zarrab’s arrest a year before Atilla initially attracted considerable attention to the case because he was married to Turkish pop star and TV personality Ebru Gundes.
Zarrab testified that he paid over $50 million in bribes to Turkey’s finance minister to help the sanctions-busting scheme flourish.
For a time, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Michael B. Mukasey, a former attorney general in President George W. Bush’s administration, attempted to negotiate a resolution to the case with Erdogan and Trump administration officials. The talks in 2017 failed to produce a deal.


Lukashenko wins Belarus poll with 80.23%: state news agency

Updated 19 min 20 sec ago

Lukashenko wins Belarus poll with 80.23%: state news agency

  • The central electoral commission reported that the strongman’s main challenger Svetlana Tikhanovskaya won 9.9 percent in Sunday’s vote
MINSK: Long-serving Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko won a sixth term with 80.23 percent of the vote, according to a preliminary count from the presidential election, Belta state news agency reported.
The central electoral commission reported that the strongman’s main challenger Svetlana Tikhanovskaya won 9.9 percent in Sunday’s vote, which Lukashenko’s opponents say was rigged.