A Turkish banker has been convicted in a U.S. court for participating in a billion-dollar plot to evade U.S. sanctions against Iran.
A court in New York City has convicted Mehmet Hakan Atilla on five counts of conspiracy, including conspiracy to defraud the United States, plus one count of bank fraud. The 47-year-old Turkish national was acquitted on a charge of money laundering.
The case has strained relations between Turkey and the United States.
Atilla is a deputy general manager at Turkey's state-run Halkbank. U.S. prosecutors charged him with helping to facilitate a deal in which Iran traded oil and gas for gold, moving some of the transactions through U.S. banks without their knowledge.
Atilla was heard on telephone recordings setting up fake food and agriculture deals with Iran to disguise deals that were really sales of oil. Atilla's lawyer said his client was merely "a hapless pawn" in those deals, blaming Halkbank's client, Reza Zarrab, instead.
Zarrab, a Turkish-Iranian trader who has admitted arranging the deals, told the court he paid about $50 million in bribes in 2012 to the Turkish economy minister to push the deals through. Zarrab testified that he believed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was aware of the scheme.
Erdogan said the case is an American conspiracy to blackmail Turkey, a strategic partner with the U.S. in Middle East affairs.
Iran and the United States have had chilly relations since the Iran hostage crisis from 1979-1981, in which 52 Americans were held by student activists in Iran for 444 days until a release was negotiated. The United States now bans most financial dealings with Iran, which is a major oil-producing nations.
Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the business relationship between Reza Zarrab and Mehmet Hakan Atilla. It also misstated the title of the government official Zarrab admitted to bribing. We apologize for the error.