Mehmet Hakan Atilla, the former deputy chief executive of Halkbank, is definitely innocent, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told Bloomberg in an interview on May 14.
“If Atilla is going to be declared a criminal, that would be almost equivalent to declaring the Republic of Turkey a criminal,” Erdoğan said.
“So we want his acquittal, because there is no crime. There is no crime that they are able to allege. It’s not something acceptable to accuse such a person with crimes,” he added.
“Right now a great injustice is being done against Halkbank. Hakan Atilla is a friend of ours who has been regularly visiting the U.S. and has been detained in his last, or his sixth visit, without any crime existing. There should be no such injustice.” Erdoğan said.
When asked if Turkey would be prepared to pay a potential fine, Erdoğan said “it’s not possible to say anything before seeing the result that comes out.”
“Let the result appear first. After the result, of course our bank will do what the laws require them to do,” he said.
“There is a judicial procedure and the lawyers of Halkbank especially are following this judicial process. I hope it doesn’t yield a result that will completely destroy Turkish-U.S. relations,” Erdoğan said.
Sentencing of Atilla scheduled for May 16.
Atilla was convicted by a federal jury in Manhattan in January in a case that strained diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Turkey. He was found guilty of conspiring with gold trader Reza Zarrab and others to help Iran escape U.S. sanctions through the use of fraudulent gold and food transactions.
Zarrab, who was arrested in the U.S. in March 2016 and accused of violating U.S. sanctions on Iran, pleaded guilty in the case last October and cooperated with prosecutors. He testified against Atilla.
Atilla’s lawyers sought to dismiss all charges last December, citing insufficient evidence. They said prosecutors were unable to prove Atilla had a connection with the crimes committed by Zarrab.
But on Jan. 3, Atilla was found guilty by a jury on five counts related to conspiracy and bank fraud but was acquitted of money laundering.
A month later, a New York judge turned down a request by Atilla to acquit him of all charges due to lack of evidence, saying there was “sufficient evidence” to support the charges.
Judge Richard Berman on April 16 postponed the sentencing of Atilla from May 7 to May 16 as Turkish translators were unavailable on the first date.