Turkey slams US sen­tenc­ing of Turk­ish banker on Iran scheme

Imperial Valley Press - - SPORTS - By ZEYNEP BILGINSOY B5

IS­TAN­BUL — Turkey has crit­i­cized the sen­tenc­ing of a Turk­ish banker in the United States over his role in help­ing Iran evade U. S. 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 U. S. and the court that tried the case of a plot against Turkey car­ried out in tan­dem with a U. S.- 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 U. S. ex­tra­dite him. Gulen, who lives in Penn­syl­va­nia, has de­nied the al­le­ga­tions. His free­dom in the U. S. 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 U. S . 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.

U.S. 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 U. S. 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 U. S. sanc­tions laws by con­vict­ing and sen­tenc­ing Atilla, “a foreign gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial.”

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. El­iz­a­beth...

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