US citizen accused of bribes extradited from Iraq

July 28, 2014 - 6:05 PM

CINCINNATI (AP) — A federal fugitive accused of bribing U.S. military contracting officials in Iraq has been returned to the U.S. in what prosecutors say was the first extradition under a 1936 treaty between the two countries.

Metin Atilan, a dual citizen of the U.S. and Turkey, pleaded not guilty Monday to contract and wire fraud charges in federal court in Dayton, Ohio. He was extradited from Iraq on Sunday, about a year after his arrest.

His court-appointed attorney, Thomas Anderson, did not return a call for comment.

Atilan, 54, was arrested in 2008 in Las Vegas, where he was living at the time, on allegations that he offered bribes and kickbacks to secure contracts for his businesses to do construction work and provide other services in Iraq for U.S. military operations.

One of the officials he was accused of trying to bribe worked for the U.S. Air Force in Iraq and later for a Department of Defense contractor based in southwest Ohio. That official became a confidential informant for the U.S. government.

After his arrest, Atilan was placed on electronic monitoring and ordered to appear in a federal courtroom in Dayton, Ohio. Instead, prosecutors say he cut off his electronic monitoring bracelet, fled to Turkey and continued to run his businesses. He was arrested last year in Iraq, where he had been traveling on business.

Federal prosecutors hailed Atilan's extradition as historic, saying it was the first under the U.S.-Iraq extradition treaty of 1936.

"If you take a look at the history of Iraq and the governments that have existed over the last 70 years ... they have literally been all over the map and all during this turbulent era of all these different governments and rulers, the two countries have never been able to shake hands and extradite anyone, and that's sort of mind-boggling," Assistant U.S. Attorney Dwight Keller said Monday.

Keller said he did not know how many extradition requests the U.S. had filed with Iraq over the years, and a Department of Justice spokesman declined to answer the question. Iraq officials may have been willing to allow Atilan to be extradited partly because of his U.S. citizenship, Keller said.

David Larson, an immigration attorney in Dayton who had been hired by Atilan but is no longer on the case, said he didn't think the extradition was all that remarkable.

"I can't imagine a whole lot of people would choose Iraq as their refuge," Larson said with a laugh.

He said he couldn't speak to the charges against Atilan except to say that he suspected they were overly harsh.

Two of the charges carry penalties of up to 30 years in prison. Atilan is next scheduled to be in court Thursday for a detention hearing, where he's likely to be ordered held pending trial.

In 2012, Iraq refused a request from the U.S. to hand over a jailed Hezbollah commander from Lebanon, instead freeing him from prison. The U.S. believes Ali Mussa Daqduq was behind a brazen 2007 raid on a military base that left five U.S. soldiers dead and considers him to be a major threat to Americans in the region.

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