U.S. Seeks at Least 15 Years for Banker in Sanctions Case

(Bloomberg) -- U.S. prosecutors are seeking a sentence of more than 15 years for a Turkish banker convicted of aiding a money-laundering scheme that enabled Iran to evade U.S. sanctions on billions of dollars in oil revenue.

The lengthy sentence is dictated in part by the amount of money involved and in part by the stiff minimum sentences for crimes involving money laundering. In an earlier filing, lawyers for the banker, Mehmet Hakan Atilla, said their client could face life in prison but asked the judge for leniency, saying he should serve less than five years.

In a filing in Manhattan federal court Wednesday, U.S. prosecutors said the standard sentencing guideline for his conviction would be 105 years. But they suggested an alternative calculation that would result in a term of 15 to 20 years, noting that range has been imposed in similar cases. Atilla is scheduled to be sentenced April 11.

Atilla’s participation in the scheme created "immense risks" to U.S. national security, the prosecutors said, and claimed he lied during trial testimony, demonstrating "an unapologetic rejection of responsibility." The government also asked for a fine of $50,000 to $500,000.

Though Atilla was acquitted on a single count of money laundering, he was convicted on five other charges including conspiracy to commit money laundering and sanctions evasion that carry severe penalties.

Atilla, who headed international banking at Turkish state-owned banking giant Turkiye Halk Bankasi AS, was a peripheral figure in the intricate scheme orchestrated by Turkish-Iranian gold trader, Reza Zarrab. He was arrested at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York last March as he was boarding a flight to London, after coming to the U.S. on a road show to promote a securities offering.

But Zarrab pleaded guilty on the eve of trial and agreed to cooperate with the prosecution, becoming the government’s chief witness in the case. That left Atilla as the sole defendant to stand trial out of nine people charged, including other Halkbank executives and Turkish government officials, who remained abroad and weren’t taken into custody by U.S. authorities.

Prosecutors in the filing sought to portray Atilla as a key figure in the scheme, saying evidence showed he was involved in designing and carrying out the methods used in the laundering operation, and that he deceived U.S. Treasury Department officials who were monitoring the bank’s trade with Iran. Atilla denied those assertions during the trial.

Still, Atilla was captured on several wiretapped calls with Zarrab that were presented as evidence during the trial, including one in which he coached the trader on how to counterfeit customs forms to make transactions look legitimate.

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

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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