Turkey's ex-Halkbank manager appeals conviction in Iran sanctions evasion case 

Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a former executive at Turkey's state-run Halkbank, has appealed against his conviction for fraud in a U.S. court for his role in a scheme to bypass U.S. sanctions on Iran, Court House News reported.

Atilla served 32 months in prison in the United States and was released in July. Turkish authorities then appointed Atilla CEO of the Istanbul Stock Exchange in October, but a Manhattan federal court has also indicted Halkbank, the second-largest state-owned bank in Turkey, with fraud, money laundering and involvement in sanctions evasion. 

"Though a reversal would make little practical difference to Atilla, who received a hero’s welcome back in Istanbul this summer after finishing a 32-month sentence, it could set a precedent benefiting Atilla’s former employer, the Turkish government-run Halkbank, which itself is now facing criminal charges," Court House News said.

Atilla’s trial helped establish the bank’s connection to the scheme to evade U.S. sanctions on Iran, according to a statement by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Atilla's lawyer requested the case to be dismissed on jurisdictional grounds, according to Court House News. This argument echoed Halkbank’s own statements that given its lack of branches or employees in the country, the United States lacked the jurisdiction to file an indictment. 

Evidence at Atilla’s trial leant heavily on the testimony of Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab, the architect of the scheme, who turned state’s witness and testified that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had encouraged him to carry on with the complex scheme to trade gold for Iranian oil, that he had bribed Turkish ministers to facilitate the trade and that Halkbank had laundered the proceeds.

Atilla’s appeal attempts to discredit Zarrab’s testimony through a jailhouse recording between Zarrab and his uncle in 2016 where Turkish-Iranian gold trader said he had to admit to something he had not done, Court House News said.

“It seemed rather far-fetched to believe that a defendant who pleaded guilty was in fact, factually innocent,” Assistant U.S Attorney Michael Lockard said in response.

The three-judge panel is to rule on Atilla’s appeal in the coming weeks, Turkish media said.