Legal

US Accuses Turkey’s Halkbank Of Plot To Evade Iran Sanctions

The U.S. has accused Halkbank, one of Turkey’s largest banks, of participating in a scheme to evade sanctions against Iran. In an indictment filed on Tuesday (Oct. 15) in Manhattan federal court, prosecutors alleged that the plot involved high-ranking government officials in Iran and Turkey.

“Halkbank’s systemic participation in the illicit movement of billions of dollars’ worth of Iranian oil revenue was designed and executed by senior bank officials,” said U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman in a statement, according to Bloomberg. “Halkbank will now have to answer for its conduct in an American court.”

The news sent the Turkish lira down almost 1 percent, falling 4.5 percent so far this month.

Two people, including a senior Halkbank executive, have already been convicted in the case. That trial led to protests from Turkish President Recep Erdoğan, who claimed that the U.S. was trying to harm his country’s national and economic interests, calling the case an “international coup attempt.”

The case first came about when Reza Zarrab, a Turkish gold trader, said he had helped Iran access overseas funds that were frozen in foreign accounts. After pleading guilty, Zarrab served as the star witness against bank executive, Mehmet Hakan Atilla, who was convicted in early 2018. The prosecutors also released evidence that implicated Turkish officials and their families, while an ex-finance minister was charged in absentia.

U.S. prosecutors have called Halkbank the center of the scheme to launder money out of Turkey to Dubai, where the funds could then be moved into the global financial system and made available to Iran. In fact, around $1 billion was converted into U.S. dollars, and moved through banks in New York.

As a result, the House Foreign Affairs Committee has crafted a bipartisan bill that would impose sanctions on Halkbank, such as freezing assets or restricting visas.

A Halkbank representative didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

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