Turkish banker released from U.S. prison, sent back to Turkey

This story has been updated.

A Turkish banker convicted last year of helping Iran evade economic sanctions has been released from a U.S. prison and put on a plane back to Turkey, Turkish newspaper Gazete Duvar reported on Wednesday.

Mehmet Hakan Atilla, former senior executive at state-run Halkbank, was released from prison last Friday and handed over to U.S. immigration officials, his lawyer told reporters on Tuesday, according to an Associated Press report. Duvar reported that Atilla had boarded a Turkish Airlines flight from New York's JFK airport that was expected to arrive in Istanbul late Wednesday morning.  

In January 2018, a federal jury convicted Atilla of participating in a conspiracy that allowed Iran to launder billions of dollars in oil proceeds through world financial markets.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan described the case as the largest sanctions-evasion prosecution on record, saying Atilla "massively undermined" U.S. efforts to choke off funding to Iran during negotiations to limit its nuclear program, according to AP. 

The trial angered Turkey government officials, including President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who said it had “nothing to do with law, justice or trade”. 

Prosecutors had sought a sentence of up to twenty years, but the judge called Atilla “a cog in the wheel” and handed him 32 months in prison.