Jan. 3 (UPI) -- A New York jury convicted Turkish banker Hakan Atilla in a U.S. sanctions-busting case that has increased tensions between the two countries.
Atilla, the deputy general manager of Halkbank, was found guilty Wednesday of five counts of conspiracy and bank fraud but acquitted of money laundering after being accused of creating a system to secretly move Iranian money through U.S. banks, which violated U.S. sanctions.
"If you lie repeatedly to U.S. Treasury officials and fabricate documents -- all as part of a secret scheme to smuggle billions of dollars in Iranian oil money past the U.S. sanctions net -- as Atilla did, then you should be prepared for the consequences," Acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim said. "The consequence of Atilla's choice is now a felony conviction in an American court of law."
Atilla, 47, is one of nine people indicted in the case, seven of whom were in Turkey where they haven't been tried.
The eighth, Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab, was initially the lead defendant before reaching a deal with U.S. authorities to become a star witness against Atilla.
Zarrab testified he lied to federal agents, paid bribes to Turkish co-conspirators including the former economic minister and made $150 million in profits off the scheme.
He also cited meetings and phone calls as proof Atilla was intimately involved in the investigation, but the defense was able to show Atilla was on a plane with no cellphone service at the time of one of the calls.
Atilla testified in his own defense, repeatedly and forcefully denying a role in the operation which Zarrab laid out to the jury and stating he was unaware Halkbank was violating sanctions.
A former Turkish police supervisor who stole documents and wiretap recordings from a 2013 corruption probe in Istanbul provided most of the evidence in the case.
Turkey's justice minister, Abdulhamit Gul, also dismissed the legitimacy of the proceedings in an interview with Turkish media.
"A final ruling on this will mean nothing to us," Gul said. "This is a tragedy in the judiciary with no legal foundations, turning into a comedy over time."