The prosecutors had called for a 20-year sentence, but U.S. District Judge Richard Berman said the scheme was most likely engineered by people far more powerful than Atilla. Now, with credit for good behavior and the time he spent in jail awaiting trial, Atilla could return to Turkey by the middle of next year.
During trial a year ago, prosecutors labeled Atilla an "architect" of two schemes to accomplish this. Atilla, who headed worldwide banking at Turkiye Halk Bankasi AS, remains employed by the bank, according to his lawyers.
Berman's comments appeared to stun Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Lockard, who had sought a more than 15-year sentence.
U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman ordered Mehmet Hakan Atilla to spend 32 months in prison, including 14 months he has already served after his arrest a year ago during a business trip to NY on behalf of his employer, Turkey's state-run Halkbank.
In January, Atilla was found guilty of five counts of conspiracy and bank fraud.
"Atilla appears to have been a person doing his job, sometimes reluctantly or hesitatingly, under the direction of the Halkbank general manager Mr. Aslan, who did take bribes", Berman said.
"Now apart from my family, I have no other priorities", he said.
Prosecutors have said that in early 2012, Atilla was involved in a scheme to help Iran spend oil and gas revenues overseas using fraudulent gold and food transactions through Halkbank, violating United States sanctions.
Atilla was Halkbank's point person for interacting with USA officials who were enforcing the Iranian sanctions during the Obama administration.
The mastermind was Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab, who agreed to plead guilty and cooperate on the eve of trial, spending several days on the witness stand.
The wealthy Zarrab, arrested a year before Atilla, initially attracted considerable attention to the case.
There was no immediate response to the sentencing from the Turkish government or Halkbank. He was acquitted on one count of money laundering.
Berman said the lengthier prison terms recommended would be "inappropriate, unreasonable and unfair".
The case has strained diplomatic relations between the United States and Turkey.
"If Hakan Atilla is going to be declared a criminal, that would be nearly equivalent to declaring the Turkish Republic a criminal", he said.
In addition to implicating Atilla, Zarrab described a vast bribery and corruption scheme that involved millions in payments to government ministers and banking executives, all done with the blessing of Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Turkish government officials vilified the participants in the USA court proceedings, with the state news media labeling Berman, prosecutors and even reporters pawns in an elaborate conspiracy by Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen, a former Erdogan ally turned state enemy.