A government minister slammed the U.S. court ruling to sentence a Turkish banker to 32 months in prison as a political attack against Turkey, signaling possible deterioration of ties in the weeks ahead.
A day after Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a senior executive at the international banking section of the state-run Halkbank was sentenced to jail over his involvement in a multibillion-dollar scheme to evade the U.S. sanctions against Iran, the Turkish government reacted with anger.
“The court violated the law, it did not carry out a fair trial,” Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag who is also the government’s spokesperson, said. He noted that “This case is concrete proof of the cooperation of FETO, CIA, FBI and the U.S. justice system.”
His remarks reflect the Turkish government’s long-held view that the case was part of a plot by Gulen Movement against the government.
The U.S. prosecutors accused Atilla of co-conspiring along with gold trader Reza Zarrab to skirt the U.S. sanctions against Iran by helping Iranian authorities to work around the sanctions to make their international payments through Halkbank.
Prosecutors demanded a harsher sentence of 20 years in prison, portraying Atilla as the architect of the entire scheme. But Judge Richard Berman rejected the prosecution’s theory that he was the mastermind behind the framework. Instead, he noted in his detailed reasoning, that he simply followed orders from Halkbank former CEO Suleyman Aslan, reluctantly and hesitantly.
The judge said Atilla was one of the few who did not receive any bribe by Zarrab who paid to then-Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan up to 50 million euros.
During closing statements, prosecutors still insisted on their position and emphasized that without Atilla’s technical expertise, the scheme would not have succeeded on a massive scale.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who had close ties to businessman Zarrab who became a key witness in the trial after agreeing to cooperate with the U.S. prosecutors repeatedly railed against the case. Days before the jail sentence, the president told Bloomberg that if Hakan Atilla is going to be declared a criminal, that would be almost equivalent to declaring the Turkish Republic a criminal.”