A Turkish banker was convicted in NY on Wednesday in connection with a massive scheme to help Iran evade United States sanctions, in an explosive case that strained ties between Ankara and Washington.
The case against Atilla was built on testimony of Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab, who cooperated with prosecutors and pleaded guilty to charges of leading the operation to evade USA sanctions on Iran.
Turkish media reported Wednesday that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani that Ankara valued Iranian stability and security. "You will not be able to deceive us, you should know that", he added. Zarrab hired former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and ex-Attorney General Michael Mukasey to meet with Erdogan and US officials and try to broker a diplomatic solution to the charges.
Zarrab testified that Atilla helped design fraudulent transactions of gold and food that allowed Iran to spend its oil and gas revenues overseas, including through USA financial institutions, defying US sanctions.
A former Turkish police official, Huseyin Korkmaz, testified that the corruption investigation he had built against Zarrab and others in the gold-for-oil case was promptly quashed. He was accused of helping Iran evade US sanctions by using his position at one of Turkey's top banks.
USA prosecutors said Atilla, 47, participated in a scheme to launder $1 billion of Iranian oil and gas revenue through us banks in violation of us sanctions.
"Today, after a full, fair, and open trial, a unanimous jury convicted Hakan Atilla, a senior banker at Halk Bank", Kim said.
Zarrab also said he paid tens of millions of dollars' worth of bribes to economy minister at the time, Zaref Caglayan, to facilitate illegal gold transactions with Iran.
Atilla was convicted not just for conspiring to violate sanctions, but also to defraud the United States and to commit bank fraud and money laundering.
Turkey's desire for improved relations with Europe also comes at a time when its ties with the United States have soured over a slew of issues, including Jerusalem, Washington's continued support for Kurdish fighters in Syria and the trial of a Turkish banker accused of helping Iran evade U.S. sanctions. Halkbank has denied any wrongdoing and said that its transactions were in line with local and worldwide regulations.
In this courtroom sketch, Mehmet Atilla, center, testifies during his trial on corruption charges in NY on December 15, 2017.
The 47-year-old faces up to 30 years in prison when he is sentenced in April.