Lawyers for Turkish banker Mehmet Hakan Atilla, who was convicted in New York federal court in January of violating US sanctions on Iran, asked a judge on Monday to “temper justice with mercy” and sentence him to “significantly below” the four to five years recommended by US sentencing guidelines, according to Tuesday tweets by New York Times reporter Benjamin Weiser.
Prosecutors will also make their own recommendations for the banking executive, who will be sentenced on April 11.
Atilla’s defense team argued that the evidence showed his role was minor, that he never sought bribes and had little knowledge of or participation in the scheme, which they said was led by Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab.
Atilla and gold trader Zarrab and seven other people, including Turkey’s former economy minister and two additional Halkbank executives, were charged with engaging in transactions worth hundreds of millions of dollars for Iran’s government and Iranian entities from 2010 to 2015 in a scheme to evade US sanctions.
Only Zarrab and Atilla are currently in US custody after separately being arrested upon trying to enter the United States in 2016 and 2017, respectively.
The jury in Atilla’s trial in US federal court reached a verdict in January of guilty on five counts, including bank fraud and conspiracy, and not guilty on one count of money laundering in a case that portrayed high-level corruption in Turkey and heightened tensions between the US and its NATO ally.
During the trial Zarrab, the US government’s star witness who made a plea deal with prosecutors, testified that then-Prime Minister and current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan personally authorized the involvement of Turkish banks in the scheme although he was not charged in the case.
Zarrab testified in early December that he had bribed Turkey’s former economy minister, Mehmet Zafer Çağlayan, in the billion-dollar scheme to smuggle gold for oil in violation of US sanctions on Iran.
In a letter to the judge Atilla’s lawyers detailed their contacts with Turkish officials, including related to the possibility that Turkey could ask the US to give Atilla immunity from prosecution based on his role as an employee of a state-owned bank.
Atilla’s lawyers also wrote to the judge that after their discussions about potential immunity for their client, the Turkish Embassy in Washington, D.C., sent a diplomatic note to the US State Department but did not request that Atilla be accorded immunity from prosecution.