Jailed sanction-breaking banker Atilla files appeal to overturn U.S. case against him

Mehmet Hakan Atilla, the Turkish banking executive sentenced in the United States last year for his role in contravening sanctions on Iran, has lodged an appeal with a U.S. court seeking to overturn the trial against him, Turkish secularist newspaper Cumhuriyet reported on Thursday.

Atilla, a former executive at the Turkish state-run Halkbank who was found guilty in January 2018 of involvement in running a scheme to break U.S. sanctions on Iran through the bank, is due for release in July.

Yet the Turkish banker continues to reject the charges against him, and launched the appeal asking for the entire case against him to be overturned.

If the court of appeals refuses this request, a secondary appeal demands that the guilty verdicts against Atilla are overturned and his case is retried.

This may be a risky move for the Turkish banker, whose 32-month sentence fell well below the recommendations of the prosecutors who handled the case against him.

The prosecutors began the process to appeal against the sentence after it was announced in May last year, but dropped the appeal soon afterwards.

Atilla was sentenced for “conspiring with others to use the U.S. financial system” for Iran’s benefit while the country was under a previous round of U.S. sanctions.

Through the testimony of its star witness, Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab, the case against the banker implicated high-ranking members of the Turkish government, including a former finance minister and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan himself.

Halkbank has still not been handed any punishment for its involvement in breaking sanctions, though some have speculated that a fine against it could reach tens of billions of dollars.