CRIME AND PUNISMENT
U.S. JURY FINDS TURKISH BANKER GUILTY OF HELPING IRAN DODGE SANCTIONS
A U.S. jury on January 3 found a Turkish banker guilty of helping Iran evade U.S. sanctions, after a nearly four-week trial that has strained diplomatic relations between the United States and Turkey. Mehmet Hakan Atilla, an executive at Turkey’s majority state-owned Halkbank was convicted on five of the six counts he faced, including bank fraud and conspiracy to violate U.S. sanctions law, in a Manhattan federal court. Atilla was also found not guilty on a money laundering charge.
Prosecutors had accused Atilla of conspiring with gold trader Reza Zarrab and others to help Iran escape sanctions using fraudulent gold and food transactions. Zarrab pleaded guilty and testified for the prosecutors. Over several days on the witness stand, Zarrab had described a sprawling scheme that he said included bribes to Turkish government officials and was carried out with the blessing of current President Tayyip Erdogan.
“Foreign banks and bankers have a choice: you can choose willfully to help Iran and other sanctioned nations evade U.S. law, or you can choose to be part of the international banking community transacting in U.S. dollars,” Joon Kim, the acting U.S. Attorney in Manhattan, said in a statement after the verdict was read. “But you can’t do both.” U.S. District Judge Richard Berman scheduled Atilla to be sentenced on April 11.
Victor Rocco, one of Atilla’s lawyers, told reporters that the banker would ask Berman to overturn the verdict and would appeal if necessary. “We believe he’s innocent,” Rocco said. “We intend, and he intends, most importantly, to continue to fight and clear his name.”
President Erdogan said the United States could not speak about justice and relations with Washington would suffer as a result. “The process at these trials and at these hearings was carried out in a very different way,” Erdogan said. “If this is America’s understanding of justice, then the world is in trouble.” The United States was carrying out a very serious string of conspiracies in the legal and economic realms, Erdogan said.
Turkey's Halkbank on Thursday said it continues to adhere to all national and international regulations as it clarified that a U.S. court's verdict involving its former employee was not a ruling on the bank itself.