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Turkish banker Atilla says his passport seized at airport due to travel ban

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A top Turkish banker convicted in the US of helping Iran evade US sanctions has said his passport was seized at an airport due to a travel ban as he was trying to fly to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) on Monday.

Mehmet Hakan Atilla, who served as deputy director general of international banking for Turkish lender Halkbank and was convicted in 2018 of plotting to help Iran evade US sanctions in a multi-billion dollar gold-for-oil scheme, announced on Instagram that his passport was seized at İstanbul Airport as he was preparing to fly to the KKTC with his family.

Atilla said he was being taken to a police station to be informed about a travel ban imposed on him.

The banker complained that as a person who had served and defended his country for years, it was a pity he was being given such treatment at an airport.

“The biter gets bit,” said Atilla.

In later remarks to the Sözcü daily, Atilla said he was informed about the travel ban at the police station but was not told why it had been imposed.

In an interview with the T24 news website in January, Atilla said some people in the state tried to use his wife and children as leverage when he was jailed in the US so that he would stick to the government narrative on the Halkbank case.

Atilla was released from prison in the US in 2019 after spending 28 months behind bars and returned to Turkey, where he was welcomed as a hero by the administration of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Erdoğan dismissed the allegations against him, insisting the case against Atilla was “politically motivated.”

Atilla was named head of the Borsa İstanbul stock exchange in October 2019. However, he resigned in March 2021, prior to an approaching New York trial of Halkbank.

A US federal court is expected to hear a case against Halkbank after charging it with six counts of fraud, money laundering and sanctions offenses in 2019.

Halkbank faces a substantial fine for facilitating transactions that helped Iranian officials circumvent US sanctions in 2012 and 2013 for the nation’s nuclear program.

Relations between the two NATO allies remain strained over the Halkbank dispute, Syria and other international issues.

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