A U.S. federal court has sentenced a Turkish banker to 32 months in prison for helping Iran evade American trade sanctions.
Mehmet Hakan Atilla was sentenced Wednesday. He was convicted in January on five counts of bank fraud and conspiracy. He was acquitted on one count of money laundering.
Prosecutors maintained that Atilla used his position as deputy general manager for international banking at Turkish state bank Halkbank to help build and protect a scheme that enabled billions of dollars in profits from Iranian oil sales to flow through world financial markets since 2011.
"This is the biggest sanction evasion prosecution in the United States that we're aware of,'' said Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Lockard.
The case has strained diplomatic relations between the United States and Turkey. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned the trial as a "chain of serious plots" against his government.
The prosecutors had called for a 20-year sentence, but U.S. District Judge Richard Berman said the scheme was most likely engineered by people far more powerful than Atilla.
"Mr. Atilla was, as the defense suggests, somewhat of a cog in the wheel, and I would add a somewhat reluctant one,'' Berman said during a three-hour court proceeding that mostly featured the judge explaining how he chose a far lighter sentence.
Berman said a lengthier prison term would be "inappropriate, unreasonable and unfair.''
Atilla has already served 14 months in prison since his arrest last year during a business trip to New York.That time will be credited toward his sentence, allowing him to return to Turkey in about a year.