Turkish banker jailed in Halkbank case plans to resign as bourse CEO - report

Mehmet Hakan Atilla, previously imprisoned in the United States for his role in a scheme to evade U.S. sanctions on Iran, decided to resign later in March from his position as the head of the Istanbul Stock Exchange, Bloomberg reported on Friday. 

According to the same report, Atilla is currently on a leave and will return at the annual general meeting of the Stock Exchange at the end of the month. 

Atilla was first arrested in March 2017 in New York, and was found guilty in January 2018 for his role in the sanctions scheme. Iranian-Turkish businessman Reza Zarrab, the architect of the sanctions busting scheme, pled guilty earlier and flipped to be a government witness against Atilla, who served 32 months in a U.S. prison before being released in July 2019.

Evidence provided by the prosecution in the New York trial of Atilla alleged that senior Turkish officials, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, knew of the scheme. Turkish officials said Atilla was completely innocent of the charges and branded the trial as a conspiracy against Erdoğan's government. Atilla was appointed to head the Exchange by then-Finance and Treasury Minister Berat Albayrak as soon as he returned to Turkey.

Albayrak, Atilla's good friend and Erdoğan's son-in-law, abruptly resigned from his post a day after some major U.S. news networks announced Joe Biden's election victory.

The trial of Halkbank, where the Turkish state-owned lender faces charges of money laundering and U.S. sanctions evasion in favour of Iran, will commence in May 2021. 

Halkbank was indicted last year for its role in circumventing U.S. sanctions against Iran between 2010 and 2016. Former President Donald J.Trump attempted to get the Department of Justice to drop the case. “Erdoğan was completely focused on getting Halkbank out of the investigation and potential prosecution, he was constantly saying that the investigation should be settled or dismissed,” John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser told Der Spiegel on Wednesday. 

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York is currently looking at the case, evaluating the Halkbank's request for dismissal.