Turkey slams US court's sentence for Turkish banker, says trial based on 'fake evidence'

DAILY SABAH WITH WIRES
ISTANBUL
Published
Turkey slams US court's sentence for Turkish banker, says trial based on 'fake evidence'

The Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday a U.S. court's sentencing of Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a banker at state-lender Halkbank, to 32 months in prison was not legitimate or credible due to fake evidence and incorrect statements during the trial.

The statement came after the judge in the case, Richard Berman, sentenced Atilla to 32 months in prison with credit for time served.

"By convicting a foreign government official, this court made an unprecedented decision regarding the implementation of U.S. sanctions legislation," the statement said, adding that the ruling came after an entirely feigned process that is inconsistent with the principle of a fair trial.

The ministry accused the U.S. court of taking forged evidence and statements fabricated by supporters of Fetullah Gülen, the leader of the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), who is also accused of orchestrating a failed coup in 2016, and said Atilla had been sentenced despite being innocent.

"The credibility of the legal proceedings has vanished completely," it added.

On Tuesday, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told Bloomberg that Atilla was "definitely innocent."

"If Hakan Atilla is going to be declared a criminal, that would be almost equivalent to declaring the Turkish Republic a criminal," he said.

Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ also criticized the decision Thursday, saying that the U.S. prison sentence given to a Turkish banker lacks any legal foundation.

"This trial was not legal but political," Bozdağ, a government spokesman, said in a series of tweets, stating that the court decision came as the result of a fictitious trial process.

In mid-April, Judge Richard Berman said in a written statement that Atilla's sentencing was postponed because Turkish translators were unavailable for the earlier date and added that the defense also made an "extensive submission" that the court has taken under review.

Previously, U.S. prosecutors asked the federal judge for at least 15 years in prison and a fine of between $50,000 and $500,000 for Mehmet Hakan Atilla, the former deputy CEO of state lender Halkbank.

In a 75-page petition to the court, Atilla's lawyers asked the judge for a "fair and merciful" sentence of between four and five years. Citing similar cases in which other national banks violated sanctions on Iran, the lawyers noted that none of the directors of those banks were arrested or sentenced, but Atilla, who had no connection with the U.S., is facing a prison term.

Defense lawyers also said evidence showed their client had been used by the "architect of this plot," Iranian-Turkish businessman Reza Zarrab.

Zarrab, who was arrested in the U.S. in March 2016 on charges of violating U.S. sanctions on Iran, plead guilty in the case last October, cooperated with prosecutors and testified against Atilla. Atilla's lawyers sought to dismiss all of the charges last December by citing insufficient evidence. They said prosecutors were unable to prove Atilla had any connection to Zarrab's crimes.

But on Jan. 3, Atilla was found guilty by a jury on five counts related to conspiracy and bank fraud, but acquitted on one count of money laundering.

A month later, Judge Berman turned down Atilla's lawyers' request to dismiss all charges due to lack of evidence, saying there was sufficient evidence to support the charges.

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