US Court Convicts Turkish Banker of Violating Iran Sanctions

Published: 04 January 2018

Halkbank copyAtilla used his position at Halkbank to get around sanctions (Photo: Vikiçizer, CC-BY-SA-3.0)

By Daniela Castro

A federal jury in Manhattan convicted a Turkish banker Wednesday of helping Iran violate US sanctions by making its international transactions look as if they would be payments for food, the Department of Justice said.

The court found that Mehmet Hakan Atilla, 47, used his high rank as deputy general manager for international banking at Turkey’s state-owned Halkbank, to forge documents that helped Iran trade its oil and gas for gold, making some international transactions look like humanitarian food payments. The scheme even induced some US banks to unknowingly process the transactions in violation of the sanctions.

Attila used his position at Halkbank to commit fraud (Photo: Vikiçizer, CC-BY-SA-3.0) 

Atilla was convicted of conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), bank fraud, conspiracy to commit bank fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

“For years, Mehmet Hakan Atilla conspired to use the American financial system to conduct millions of dollars worth of illegal transactions on behalf of the Government of Iran,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security Dana J. Boente.

Co-defendant Reza Zarrab, 34, a wealthy Turkish-Iranian gold trader, pleaded guilty on October 26 of last year in a secret court hearing to seven charges, including conspiracy to violate the U.S sanctions against Iran, bank fraud and money laundering.

He was the U.S. government's star witness and testified for nearly a week in Atilla’s trial.

Acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim said that the two convicts were at the heart of “massive and brazen scheme that blew a billion-dollar hole in the Iran sanctions regime.”

Defense lawyer Victor Rocco told reporters that Atilla was a “victim of some bizarre game” and that he will appeal, according to the Associated Press.

Atilla was arrested in March 2017. He denied any involvement in the scheme.

Zarrab was arrested in March 2016.

Atilla is scheduled to be sentenced on April 11.