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Erdogan signals new duty for Turkish banker released from U.S. prison

A Turkish banker, recently released from a federal US prison after doing time for breaching U.S. sanctions against Iran, has been invited by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to discuss his future employment prospects, the state-run Anadolu Agency (AA) reported on Thursday.

Speaking during a press conference on Thursday, Erdogan said that there are no barriers between Mehmet Hakan Atilla, the former deputy director-general at Turkish state lender Halkbank, and the government, hinting at a new duty.

Having been released last week after serving 32-months in a Philadelphia federal prison, Atilla was repatriated to Turkey and landed in Istanbul on Wednesday at 11.30 am local time.

“His time in prison and all that process has upset me and my colleagues,” the president said, talking about the release of the executive.

Emphasizing that he will meet the banker soon to discuss future plans, Erdogan added: “A barrier between Hakan Atilla and us is out of the question. He is our son. If we don’t embrace him, who else will we embrace?”

In March 2017, Atilla was arrested while on a business trip in the U.S.

His arrest followed the statement of a witness, who said that he took part in organizing a multi-billion-dollar scheme to bypass the United States oil sanctions against Iran.

U.S. prosecutors called for a 20-year jail sentence.

However, the court accepted Atilla’s argument that he was “taking orders from Halkbank’s Director-General Suleyman Aslan,” and handed him a lesser sentence.

Although the executive was in May 2018 found guilty for an Iran sanctions-busting scheme and given a sentence of 32 months in jail, the judge allowed the time that he had already served while awaiting trial to be credited towards the sentence.

Atilla’s conviction was due to the testimony of a Turkish-Iranian gold trader named Reza Zarrab, who was in 2016 arrested by the U.S. authorities during a family holiday in Florida.

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

Being shown as a key planner of the scheme, Atilla was not the only one Zarrab talked about in his testimony. He also implicated former Turkish ministers and then Prime Minister, Erdogan.

Zarrab said last November that he was told Erdogan and then-Treasury Minister Ali Babacan ordered two public banks to take part in 2012’s scheme.

Erdogan repeatedly denied the claims against him and argued that the trial was a conspiracy by his dissidents in order to topple his Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.

He also held forth that Atilla was completely innocent of the charges against him.

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

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