Harsh sentence urged for Turkish banker whose case strained US-Turkey relations

PHOTO: Journalists wait outside Daniel Patrick Moynihan federal courthouse, March 26, 2014, in New York City.PlayCem Ozdel/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
WATCH Tense times in US-Turkey relations as officials huddle

Federal prosecutors in New York urged a judge Wednesday to send a Turkish banker to prison for more than 15 years when he is sentenced later this month for causing “immense risks” to the national security of the United States.

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Mehmet Atilla was convicted in January of conspiring to launder a billion dollars in Iranian oil revenue in violation of US sanctions.

“At a time when the United States and the community of nations were engaged in the momentous undertaking of depriving the Government of Iran of funding for its malign and deadly activities—including its pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles capable of delivering those weapons throughout the region and around the world; and its financial, logistical, and military support for terrorist organizations and acts of terrorism—Atilla was a key player in massively undermining those efforts,” prosecutors wrote in their sentencing submission.

Defense attorneys said a harsh sentence would be unfair and urged the judge to be lenient.

“Unlike prosecutions involving massive frauds and staggering victim losses, here there are no victims who suffered a financial loss,” defense attorneys wrote in their sentencing submission.

The defense also portrayed Atillah as a “functionary” in a conspiracy led by Reza Zarrab, a Turkish-Iranian gold trader who pleaded guilty on the eve of trial and agreed to cooperate with the government.

Whatever Atilla’s role prosecutors said his “offenses are in some respects without parallel and the immense risks that he and his co-conspirators created to the national security of the United States and to the safety and stability of the entire globe are similarly without ready comparison.”

The case strained US-Turkey relations after testimony that Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan signed off on parts of the scheme. Erdogan denied it and accused the U.S. of engaging in a plot against his country based on information from followers of Fethullah Gulen, a cleric based in Pennsylvania who Erdogan has blamed for a failed coup attempt.

Atilla is scheduled to be sentenced April 11.