Judge Richard Berman said on Wednesday that he plans to sentence Turkish banker Mehmet Hakan Atilla, who is charged with helping Iran evade US sanctions, to 32 months in prison.
Prosecutor Michael Lockard told U.S. District Judge Richard Berman that Atilla had played a key role in eroding sanctions created to rein in Iran's nuclear ambitions and support for terrorism, and deserved to pay a heavy price.
Prosecutors have said that beginning around 2012, Atilla was involved in a scheme to help Iran spend oil and gas revenues overseas using fraudulent gold and food transactions through Halkbank, violating US sanctions.
Despite the lenient sentence, a lawyer for Atilla said he still plans to appeal his conviction.
"We appreciate the thought and comprehensiveness of the judge's sentence", Rocco said.
"If Hakan Atilla is going to be declared a criminal, that would be nearly equivalent to declaring the Turkish republic a criminal", Erdogan said.
"Atilla appears to have been a person doing his job, sometimes reluctantly or hesitatingly, under the direction of the Halkbank general manager Mr. Aslan, who did take bribes", Berman said.
Prosecutor Michael D. Lockard, however, pushed for a long sentence and stated that Atilla's expertise helped the scheme to succeed on a massive scale.
Alsan, who has been indicted for more than a year, remains at large. Then, weeks before trial a year ago, he agreed to cooperate.
Aware of the implications of the ruling for the national security and bilateral relations, the judge said the US government's position is the deterrence to keep other banks from violating sanctions.
Berman went to great lengths to ensure that today's proceedings would be widely viewed in Turkey, ordering that English and Turkish transcripts be made available to the public.
Atilla began his remarks by mentioning the holiday being widely celebrated back in his home country. He simply tried to downplay his role in the fake food scheme and refused to have meetings with USA officials.
"Now apart from my family, I have no other priorities", he said.
The Turkish government has fulminated about Zarrab and Atilla's cases, labeling them an attempted "judicial coup" on Erdogan.
A month later, a NY judge turned down a request by Atilla to acquit him of all charges due to lack of evidence, saying there was "sufficient evidence" to support the charges.
"If Hakan Atilla is going to be declared a criminal, that would be nearly equivalent to declaring the Turkish Republic a criminal", Erdogan said.
Turkish government officials vilified the participants in the US court proceedings, with the state news media labeling Berman, prosecutors and even reporters pawns in an elaborate conspiracy by Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen, a former Erdogan ally turned state enemy.