Judge OKs Turkish banker's conviction in US sanctions case

NEW YORK — It was reasonable for a jury to conclude that a Turkish banker helped Iran evade U.S. economic sanctions based on the evidence it was shown, a judge ruled Wednesday.

U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman made the conclusion as he rejected a defense request to toss out the jury's findings against Mehmet Hakan Atilla.

The deputy general manager at Turkey's state-run Halkbank was convicted last month of multiple conspiracy charges and bank fraud. He was acquitted of a money laundering charge. He awaits sentencing.

His lawyers had asked the judge to overturn the verdict on grounds that prosecutors failed to prove Atilla knew of a U.S. connection to the sanctions-evading scheme or that adequate evidence was shown to jurors that could link him to multiple conspiracies.

Berman said he carefully reviewed the trial record and concluded the evidence was "clearly sufficient" for reasonable jurors to convict Atilla beyond a reasonable doubt. The judge noted that the government's case included 13 witnesses and hundreds of exhibits.

The judge cited the testimony of Turkish gold trader Reza Zarrab at length and included in his ruling copies of two diagrams Zarrab had drawn explaining how the conspiracy was carried out.

Zarrab had testified that Atilla was the most knowledgeable person at Halkbank about rules banks must followed to adhere to U.S. sanctions involving Iranian money.

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.

After the verdict, Turkey's Foreign Ministry said it was an "unfair and unfortunate" development and had resulted because U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen had influenced the proceedings with false claims and false evidence.

The government of Turkey has maintained that the conviction was obtained through evidence collected during Turkish corruption investigations in 2013. It blames those probes on efforts by Gulen's followers to bring down the government.

In his written ruling, Berman did not address comments made by Turkish officials about the prosecution but he recounted relevant evidence that was presented to the jury at trial.

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