Turkish banker imprisoned for Iran sanctions violations returns to Turkey in 'hero's welcome'

Turkish banker imprisoned for Iran sanctions violations returns to Turkey in 'hero's welcome'
Hakan Atilla was accused of running a multi-million-dollar scheme to violate US sanctions on Iran, allegations that Turkey said constituted a 'plot' against Ankara.
2 min read
24 July, 2019
Atilla received a warm welcome from Erdogan's son-in-law Berat Albayrak [Anadolu]
A former Turkish banker jailed for violating US sanctions on Iran was on Wednesday repatriated to Turkey, the country's state news agency reported.

Mehmet Hakan Atilla was released from federal US prison last week.

The former deputy director general at Turkish state lender Halkbank, Atilla was arrested after Reza Zarrab - a Turkish-Iranian gold trader also convicted for contravening the sanctions - implicated him in the case.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had slammed Atilla's conviction last year, accusing the US government of engineering a "chain of serious plots" against Turkey.

Upon his return to Turkey, the former banking executive received a hero's welcome at Istanbul's new airport, where he was greeted with a hug from Erdogan's son-in-law, Minister of Finance and Treasury Berat Albayrak. 

The Turkish leader also gave Atilla a phone call to welcome him home, according to local media.

Zarrab admitted to participating in a multi-million-dollar gold-for-oil scheme designed to circumvent US sanctions on Iran. The scheme involved both Turkish and Iranian banks. 

According to the gold trader's testimony, Attila helped to doctor the trade so that the Iranian origin of the funds would be undetectable by US banks.

He was convicted last year of multiple conspiracy charges and bank fraud.

Prosecutors said Atilla was the architect of the conspiracy that began in 2011. Atilla's lawyer contended his client was a humble civil servant at the state-owned bank, one of Turkey's largest.

At the time Turkey attacked the verdict as "a scandalous decision in a scandalous case" and  "a conspiracy aimed at complicating Turkey's internal politics and intervening in Turkey's internal affairs".

"Our very dear friend Hakan Atilla has rejoined his family and loved ones," Albayrak said in a tweet. "2.5 years of unjust detention has come to an end and justice has been found."

A businessman who was a partner of President Donald Trump's convicted former national security advisor Michael Flynn was found guilty on Tuesday of illegal lobbying for Turkey.

Bijan Kian was a partner in Flynn's Flynn Intel Group, which had a more than $500,000 contract to lobby on behalf of Ankara during the final months of the election campaign, when Flynn was also a top foreign policy advisor for Trump.

One of their responsibilities, according to the charges, was to pressure the US government to extradite dissident cleric Fethullah Gulen, who leads a group outlawed in Turkey.

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