US prosecutors are seeking a sentence of 15 years or more for Turkish banker, Mehmet Hakan Atilla, who has been convicted in connection to a money laundering scheme involving Turkish bank, Turkiye Halk Bankasi AS which allowed Iran to avoid US sanctions and cash in on billions of profits from the oil market.
Halkbank was listed as one of the few banks with the authority to hold funds for Iran under strict US sanctions against Iran. Prosecutors found billions of dollars from the oil sales in bank accounts and claimed funds that were laundered out of Turkey to Dubai by converting Iranian funds into gold, selling the gold for cash, and then funneling the funds back into the Iranian market in order to help benefit Iran. Although Turkish-Iranian gold trader, Reza Zarrab, was the mastermind behind the scheme, Zarrab plead guilty and cooperated with authorities by becoming the chief witness, which left Atilla as the only defendant in the case. Prosecutors claimed Atilla helped plan and carry out the scheme along with deceiving officials from the US Treasury Department who were monitoring Halkbank, and proved those claims by capturing a recording of a phone call between Atilla and Zarrab, where Atilla was caught teaching a trader how to fake customs forms in order to make transactions look real. Atilla was also caught lying during his testimony showing his “unapologetic rejection of responsibility” for his actions, according to prosecutors.
Atilla’s lawyers have asked for leniency and a sentence of less than five years, however, US prosecutors argued that based on the large amount of money involved and the minimum sentences for money laundering crimes, that the normal sentence of 105 years can be adjusted to 15 or 20 years. In addition, the government is also seeking a $50,000 to $500,000 fine from Atilla who has been acquitted from one count of money laundering, but convicted on five other charges including conspiracy to commit money laundering and evading sanctions.
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