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A Turkish banker convicted of helping Iran avoid US sanctions has been named head of the Turkish stock exchange in a defiant gesture to Washington as US President Donald Trump threatens Ankara with its own sanctions.

Hakan Atilla has been appointed general manager of Borsa Istanbul, Turkish Finance Minister Berat Albayrak announced on Monday. Atilla, a former deputy general manager at Turkish state-owned Halkbank, returned to Turkey in July after serving part of a 32-month prison sentence. He was convicted in 2018 of five counts of conspiracy and bank fraud related to his alleged involvement in a multibillion-dollar sanctions dodging scheme, but Turkey maintained his innocence throughout the trial proceedings, slamming the guilty verdict as “scandalous.

Halkbank itself was hit with a six-count indictment for fraud, money laundering, and sanctions offenses last week centering on the transfer of some $20 billion in Iranian oil and gas profits between 2012 and 2016. Meanwhile, Trump has promised a 50-percent tariff on Turkish steel and cancelled a $100 billion trade deal over Turkey’s anti-terror operation in northeast Syria, while the Pentagon has called on Ankara’s NATO allies to sanction the country. Should Turkey misbehave in some way, Trump warned repeatedly, he would “destroy Turkey’s economy.”

Congress has also begun the process of sanctioning Turkey over its activity in Syria, which is aimed at carving out a safe zone some 30km from the Turkish border to prevent attacks from Kurdish militias Ankara considers terrorists.

Accused of devising a system to smuggle billions of dollars in Iranian funds through US financial institutions, Attila was fingered in 2016 by gold trader Reza Zarrab, who turned state’s witness and worked with the US government to ensnare the banker when he came to the US on a business trip. While Zarrab admitted to lying to federal agents, netting $150 million in profits from the scheme, and bribing Turkish co-conspirators, it was Atilla – who was on a plane with no cellphone service when he was supposedly making the calls that proved his involvement in the setup – who ended up taking the fall.

Zarrab was insulated from the fallout from his own misdeeds by his relationship with former New York mayor and current Trump advisor Rudy Giuliani, who pressed the president to drop the charges against the gold trader.