A Turkish banker sentenced to 32 months in prison for plotting to help Iran evade US sanctions on billions of dollars of oil proceeds took steps Friday to appeal his conviction in New York.
Mehmet Hakan Atilla, 47, deputy director general of Turkish lender Halkbank, was convicted by a US federal jury in January on five counts of bank fraud and conspiracy following a five-week trial.
US District Judge Richard Berman handed down the unusually light sentence of 32 months in a Manhattan court on May 16. US prosecutors had wanted him put away for 20 years. Atilla will be free to return to Turkey after serving his sentence.
On Friday, a one-page notice appealing his conviction, not the sentence, was filed in US federal court in Manhattan, the first step in an appeals process.
Turkey has insisted that Atilla is innocent. US prosecutors say the scheme to violate US economic sanctions involved billions of dollars' worth of Iranian oil proceeds held at Atilla's employer.
The explosive case strained ties between Ankara and Washington, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan calling the trial a plot against Turkey.
The conviction hinged on the testimony of Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab, who was arrested by US authorities in 2016 after jetting to Florida with his pop-star wife and child on a family holiday to Disney World.
Zarrab, 34, initially pleaded not guilty then flipped, becoming a US government witness after admitting being involved in the multibillion-dollar gold-for-oil scheme to subvert US economic sanctions against Iran.
His testimony identified Atilla as a key organizer in the scheme, but also implicated former Turkish ministers and even Erdogan.