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Turkish Halkbank executive released from US prison

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Hakan Atilla, 48, the former deputy director-general of Turkey’s state-run Halkbank who was sentenced in May 2018 to 32 months in prison in the US for violating sanctions on Iran, was released from prison on Friday.

Atilla was convicted by a Manhattan federal court in January 2018 of conspiring to violate US sanctions on Iran. In May 2018 a US federal judge sentenced him to 32 months in prison, with credit for time already served.

Atilla was sent to US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) after his release from prison for his extradition to Turkey.

In a statement to VOA Turkish, the banker’s lawyer, Halil Uzun, said Atilla is very excited as he will be returning to Turkey.

He said the paperwork regarding Atilla’s extradition could take two or three days and that Atilla will be able to travel to Turkey after bureaucratic procedures are completed.

During his trial 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 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 stood trial in the US 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 exposed 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.

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