A federal judge sentenced a Turkish banker to 32 months in prison Wednesday for his role in a scheme to help Iran avoid U.S. sanctions, the Justice Department announced.
Mehmet Hakan Atilla was convicted in January for participating in a plot to help Iran spend billions of its oil and gas revenues in other other countries through Halkbank, Turkey’s state-controlled bank.
The transactions violated U.S. Sanctions and were disguised as fraudulent gold and food transactions through Halkbank, prosecutors said.
Atilla was found guilty of deceiving U.S. Treasury officials about Halkbank’s activities and compliance efforts to avoid subjecting the bank to U.S. sanctions. As a result of this scheme, he and his co-conspirators caused U.S. banks to unknowingly process transactions on behalf of the Iranian government, the Justice Department said.
Prosecutors identified Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab as the central figure in the scheme. Zarrab pleaded guilty to fraud, conspiracy and money laundering charges and testified against Atilla on behalf of the U.S. government.
Zarrab is still awaiting sentencing, the Justice Department said.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Monday blasted the U.S. government for prosecuting Atilla, calling the case “a great injustice” and claiming the U.S. case was based on evidence fabricated by followers Fetullah Gulen, a U.S.-based Muslin cleric who has also been blamed for the failed 2016 Turkish coup attempt.
“I hope it doesn’t yield a result that will completely destroy Turkish-U.S. relations,” Mr. Erdogan told Bloomberg.