UPDATE 1-U.S. seeks about 20 years prison for Turkish banker in Iran sanctions case

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NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. prosecutors on Wednesday asked a federal judge to sentence a Turkish banker convicted of helping Iran evade U.S. sanctions to about 20 years in prison.

Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a former executive at Turkey’s state-controlled Halkbank, had been convicted by a federal jury in Manhattan in January, in a case that strained diplomatic relations between the United States and Turkey.

The defendant is to be sentenced on April 11 by U.S. District Judge Richard Berman. Lawyers for Atilla did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Atilla, a former deputy general manager at Halkbank, had been accused 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 pleaded guilty and testified against Atilla, describing a sprawling bribery scheme carried out with the blessing of President Tayyip Erdogan.

Erdogan has denounced the case, calling it a politically motivated attack on his government.

In a court filing, U.S. prosecutors said the seriousness of Atilla’s crimes justifies a sentence “comparable” to the roughly 20 years imposed in analogous cases.

They said any sentence should be longer than 15 years, eight months, and that federal sentencing guidelines recommended a 105-year term, effectively a life sentence.

“At a time when the United States and the community of nations were engaged in the momentous undertaking of depriving the Government of Iran of funding for its malign and deadly activities,” including the alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons and support for terrorist groups, “Atilla was a key player in massively undermining those efforts,” prosecutors said.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Grant McCool

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