Turkish banker convicted of violating Iran sanctions on the way to Turkey

A former Turkish banking executive, who was convicted of breaching U.S. sanctions against Iran was on his way to Turkey after being released from a Philadelphia federal prison last week, state-run Anadolu news agency (AA) reported on Wednesday.

Mehmet Hakan Atilla, the former deputy director-general at Turkish state lender Halkbank, was repatriated on Tuesday to Turkey from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York in company with Serdar Kilic, the Turkish Ambassador to the US and Alper Aktas, the consul general of Turkey in New York.

The banker is expected to land in Istanbul on Wednesday at 11.30 am local time.

Atilla, 48, was arrested in March 2017 while on a business trip in the US after a witness said he helped organise a multi-billion-dollar scheme to bypass the US oil sanctions against Iran.

Prosecutors wanted a 20-year sentence for the banker. The court, however, handed down a lower sentence since Atilla’s argument of “taking orders from Halkbank’s Director-General Suleyman Aslan” was accepted.

The executive was found guilty in May 2018 for an Iran sanctions-busting scheme and was sentenced to 32 months in prison. The judge took into account the time he had already served while awaiting trial to be credited in the sentence.

His conviction hinged on the testimony of Reza Zarrab, a Turkish-Iranian gold trader, who was arrested by the U.S. authorities in 2016 in Florida during a family holiday.

Zarrab, 34, initially pleaded not guilty, but later decided to become a US government witness. He admitted being involved in the multi-billion-dollar gold-for-oil scheme to subvert U.S. economic sanctions on Iran.

Zarrab’s testimony showed Atilla as a key organiser in the scheme but also implicated former Turkish ministers and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Last November, Zarrab testified in the court, saying he was told that then Prime Minister Erdogan and Treasulry Minister Ali Babacan gave instructions to the two public banks to take part in the scheme in 2012.

Erdogan has repeatedly rejected the allegations, accusing his dissidents of trying to topple him.

Zarrab’s sentence has remained unknown, as many of the case documents are confidential.

US releases Turkish banker who was jailed for violating Iran sanctions

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