Turkey anger as U.S. convicts banker Atilla over Iran sanctions case


The case angered Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ministers, some of whom accused U.S. court officials of having ties to Fethullah Gulen, a US-based religious leader blamed for the July 2016 coup attempt.

A Manhattan federal jury convicted a Turkish banker Wednesday of participating in a multibillion-dollar scheme to evade Iran sanctions in a sensitive case that has roiled diplomatic relations between the United States and the president of Turkey.

"Turkey is against any move to come to power through unconstitutional and unlawful ways or by using force or external interventions", added Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag, supporting Iran's contentions that the uprising is an unconstitutional insurgency inspired or directed by foreign powers. USA prosecutors charged him with helping to facilitate a deal in which Iran traded oil and gas for gold, moving some of the transactions through US banks without their knowledge.

USA prosecutors charged nine people in the criminal case, though only Zarrab, 34, and Atilla, 47, were arrested by US authorities.

Atilla was convicted not just for conspiring to violate sanctions, but also to defraud the United States and to commit bank fraud and money laundering. He was acquitted of a money laundering charge.

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In his testimony Zarrab implicated top Turkish politicians, including Erdogan. Erdogan has repeatedly criticized the US, accusing Washington of trying to interfere with Turkey's politics, and aiming to harm the country's ruling government.

While the trial embarrassed Erdogan, lawyers for Atilla contended that the banker was a "pawn" - a secondary figure used as a vehicle to put the Turkish government on trial after prosecutors made a deal with Zarrab, who was at the center of the scheme. Turkey-US ties have been strained over an array of issues, including Washington's military support to Syrian Kurdish militia, whom Ankara listed as terrorists, and its refusal to extradite Fethullah Gulen, a US-based Turkish cleric who allegedly masterminded the failed coup in Turkey in July 2016.

As the trial unfolded in New York, Turkey's official media said prosecutors there had demanded the seizure of Zarrab's assets as part of an investigation into claims he spied for a foreign country.

Atilla is scheduled to be sentenced on April 11.

Erdogan has called the case "a plot against Turkey". Mr. Atilla's employer, Halkbank, said that he would appeal the decision, and noted that it had not been indicted or involved in the court proceedings.