US releases Turkish banker who was jailed for violating Iran sanctions

Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a senior executive at Turkey’s state-run Halkbank, who was jailed for almost three years after being convicted of violating the U.S. imposed sanctions against Iran, has been released.

The state-run Anadolu Agency (AA) reported that he was released on Friday from the medium-security Federal Corrections Institution Schuylkill in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania after serving the 32 months, to which he was sentenced as part of a lawsuit filed against Iranian-Turkish businessman Reza Zarrab.

Atilla’s arrest, which came in March 2017 while on a business trip to the U.S., followed the detention of Zarrab in 2016 also in the U.S. for breaking sanctions on Iran and it was his testimony against the Halkbank deputy director that led to the conviction.

The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York in January 2018 found Atilla guilty for conspiring to violate the US sanctions law and he was given 32 months in prison in May of that year.

However, the judge allowed the time Atilla had been detained after his arrest to be credited in the sentence and his release was announced on Friday.

Turkish media also reported that the former banker will be deported to Turkey after the related formalities are completed.

Halil Uzun, the attorney of Atilla, told the Voice of America (VOA) Turkish radio service that his client was very excited to be returning to Turkey and that the deportation procedures would take two or three days.

During Atilla’s trial in New York, the prosecution presented evidence claiming that the scheme to evade the sanctions was known by senior Turkish officials, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Zarrab said during Atilla’s trial that he bribed some Turkish officials and that Erdogan personally signed off on parts of the scheme while he was serving as Turkey’s prime minister.

The President labeled the trial as a conspiracy against his Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, adding that Atilla was completely innocent of the charges against him.

Erdogan has argued that the case was based on evidence fabricated by followers of the US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen.

The president regards the faith-based Gulen group as a terrorist organization and has also accused them of orchestrating the failed coup attempt in 2016.

Both Gulen and his followers strongly deny the accusations against them or links to any terror activities.

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