A US judge sentenced Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a Turkish banker at Turkey’s Halkbank, to 32 months in prison on Wednesday after he was found guilty of taking part in a scheme to help Iran evade US sanctions.

Atilla, a 47-year-old Turkish citizen, was sentenced by US District Judge Richard Berman in Manhattan.
Atilla, a 47-year-old Turkish citizen, was sentenced by US District Judge Richard Berman in Manhattan. ( AA )

A Turkish banker was sentenced on Wednesday to 32 months in a US prison for plotting to help Iran evade American sanctions, in an explosive case straining ties between Ankara and Washington.

Mehmet Hakan Atilla, 47, former deputy chief executive of Turkish lender Halkbank, was convicted by a New York jury on January 3 on five counts of bank fraud and conspiracy. He was acquitted on one count of money laundering.

Judge Richard Berman handed down the sentence of 32 months in a Manhattan court Wednesday. US prosecutors had wanted him to put away for 20 years.

Atilla's attorneys had argued that federal guidelines recommended a term of just 46 to 57 months, and argued for a sentence "dramatically below" that length.

The time he spent behind bars will be deducted from the total sentence, meaning he will be free after 18 months.

Atilla will be free to return to Turkey after serving his sentence.

TRT World’s Muttalip Erdogan reports from New York.

His conviction hinged on the testimony of Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab, who was arrested by US authorities in 2016 after getting to Florida with his wife and child on a family holiday to Disney World.

Zarrab, 34, initially pleaded not guilty then decided to make a deal, becoming a US government witness after admitting being involved in the multi-billion-dollar gold-for-oil scheme to subvert US economic sanctions against Iran.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the US case was based on evidence fabricated by followers of US-based preacher Fetullah Gulen, who masterminded the failed 2016 coup attempt.

"A great injustice is being done against Halkbank," Erdogan told Bloomberg TV in an interview on Monday, calling Atilla "definitely innocent."

"There is a judicial procedure and the lawyers of Halkbank especially are following this judicial process. I hope it doesn't yield a result that will completely destroy Turkish-US relations," he added.

"We want his acquittal because there's no crime ... If Hakan Atilla is going to be declared a criminal, that would be almost equivalent to declaring the Turkish Republic a criminal."

Source: TRTWorld and agencies