Turkish Banker Asked His Country to Intervene in U.S. Case

(Bloomberg) -- As a Turkish banker accused of aiding Iranian sanctions evasion was preparing to go to trial last year, his lawyers asked the Republic of Turkey to seek immunity for him.

The request wasn’t granted in full, defense attorney Victor Rocco said in a court filing Monday. Instead, the Turkish Embassy sent a “diplomatic note” to the U.S. State Department that stopped short of a formal request that the banker, Mehmet Hakan Atilla, be granted immunity, Rocco said. Atilla ultimately went to trial, was convicted in January and faces life in prison when he’s sentenced next month.

Rocco said Atilla’s lawyers had believed that as the head of international banking at state-owned Turkiye Halk Bankasi AS, their client may have been entitled to immunity because he was a Turkish government employee. Rocco gave no further details about the diplomatic note sent by the Turkish government.

U.S. District Judge Richard Berman directed Atilla’s lawyers to detail all contacts they had with U.S. and Turkish officials in preparation for the case. Another defendant in the case, Reza Zarrab, also sought to use political influence to get the case dismissed, hiring two confidants of President Donald Trump, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey. Zarrab pleaded guilty before trial and served as the government’s chief witness against Atilla.

Atilla’s lawyers said in the filing that their only other contact with U.S. officials was with those on the prosecution team and people it had to communicate with to subpoena government documents.

In a separate filing Monday, Atilla’s lawyers argued for a lenient prison term, saying he played a minor role in the scheme and derived no personal gain from it.

Atilla’s potential life sentence is "stupefyingly unreasonable and unjust," his lawyers said. His lawyers included more than 100 letters of support from Atilla’s family, colleagues and friends vouching for his character and asking for leniency.

One, from Atilla’s 70-year-old mother Ayse, said he loved children and animals and helped her successfully battle cancer "thanks to his love and moral and financial support."

Sentencing Rules

Under U.S. law, a judge must consider the suggested sentence under federal guidelines, which include the amount of money involved in the scheme. Prosecutors say Atilla deserves a life sentence, while the defense argues that the guidelines require a sentence of no more than 57 months, or less than five years. The judge isn’t bound by the guidelines and will make his own determination.

Atilla’s lawyers noted the U.S. prosecuted 10 other banks in recent years for facilitating transactions that evaded sanctions and all but one was resolved with a fine and a deferred prosecution agreement, with no individual bank employees being charged. In the other case, BNP Paribas SA paid an $8.8 billion fine and pleaded guilty to conspiracy, but still no employees were charged.

The case is U.S. v. Atilla, 15-cr-867, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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