US prosecutors seek at least 15,5 years for Atilla in sanctions busting case

US prosecutors have asked a New York federal judge to sentence Turkish banker Mehmet Hakan Atilla to at least 15-and-a-half years in prison for conspiring to violate US sanctions on Iran and suggested a term comparable to sentences of about 20 years imposed in similar cases, Benjamin Weiser of The New York Times tweeted from court on Wednesday.

The prosecutors also asked the judge to impose a “substantial fine” on Atilla, from $50,000 to $500,000, when Atilla is sentenced on April 11 in federal court in Manhattan.

Atilla and Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab and seven other people, including Turkey’s former economy minister and two additional Halkbank executives, were charged with engaging in transactions worth hundreds of millions of dollars for Iran’s government and Iranian entities from 2010 to 2015 in a scheme to evade US sanctions.

Zarrab reached a plea deal with the prosecution and became its star witness in the trial of Atilla, the only defendant other than Zarrab in US custody.

Meanwhile, a Turkish lawyer was alleged in court papers to have provided thousands of dollars to corrupt a prison guard into smuggling cellphones and alcohol to Zarrab, who was awaiting trial, according to charges lodged on April 5 against the Manhattan federal prison guard and comments by a lawyer who represented Zarrab.

Allegations against prison guard Victor Casado are consistent with Zarrab’s testimony that a guard gave him special privileges while he awaited trial in a case that rattled relations between Turkey and the US, the Associated Press reported.

Zarrab eventually pleaded guilty and became a cooperator in an Iran sanctions case that strained relations between Turkey and the US. He testified at the trial of a Turkish banker that he paid $45,000 in bribes to a guard. He also testified he helped Iran evade US economic sanctions with billions of dollars in proceeds from oil and gas sales. Casado’s lawyer declined comment on charges his client accepted over $45,000 in bribes.

Zarrab testified in early December that he had bribed Turkey’s former economy minister, Mehmet Zafer Çağlayan, in the billion-dollar scheme to smuggle gold for oil in violation of US sanctions on Iran and that then-Prime Minister and current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan personally authorized the involvement of Turkish banks in the scheme although he was not charged in the case.

The jury in Atilla’s trial in US federal court reached a verdict in January of guilty on five counts, including bank fraud and conspiracy, and not guilty on one count of money laundering in a case that portrayed high-level corruption in Turkey and heightened tensions between the US and its NATO ally.

“US prosecutors said a prison term for Atilla of greater than 15 1/2 years was necessary ‘to reflect the seriousness of the offense, promote respect for the law and to deter others from similarly endangering this country’s national security and world peace and stability’,” Weiser tweeted.

“Atilla was a key player in massively undermining .. efforts” to deprive the government of Iran of funding for its deadly activities, including the pursuit of nuclear weapons, the US said, adding that “Atilla’s lies during his trial testimony” and arguments made in his lawyers’ sentencing recommendation “demonstrate an unapologetic rejection of responsibility.”

Lawyers for Turkish banker Atilla had asked the judge on March 27 to “temper justice with mercy” and sentence him to “significantly below” the four to five years recommended by US sentencing guidelines. (SCF with

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