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Turkey’s Halkbank faces US charges as tensions mount

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Wednesday 16, October 2019 BY Kuda Muzoriwa

The charges unsealed in federal court in Manhattan reflect those against one of Halkbank’s former executives, Mehmet Hakan Atilla, who was found guilty and sentenced to prison after a trial in the same court last year.

The US brought a criminal case against one of Turkey’s largest banks for aiding a scheme to evade sanctions against Iran, a move that carries political implications and may complicate tension between NATO allies Washington and Ankara, reported Bloomberg.

US prosecutors accused state-owned Halkbank of participating in a wide-ranging plot to violate prohibitions on Iran’s access to the US financial system, the conspiracy is said to be involving high-ranking government officials in Iran and Turkey.

Geoffrey Berman, US Attorney, said, “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.”

The bank is now expected to answer for its conduct in an American court.

Two people, including a senior Halkbank executive, were previously convicted in the case, which led to the airing in a Manhattan courtroom of many of Halkbank’s activities. The late-2017 trial sparked vehement protests from Erdogan, who accused US officials of trying to harm his country’s national and economic interests.

Several months after the trial of the senior Halkbank executive ended, US officials began negotiating a potential penalty with the bank. But no settlement was announced, and the broader case seemed to go dormant.

The indictment is the latest development in a US criminal case that first became public in 2016 with the arrest of Reza Zarrab, a Turkish-Iranian gold trader accused of playing a central role in the sanctions evasion scheme. Atilla, a Deputy General Manager at Halkbank, was arrested in New York the following year.

Zarrab pleaded guilty and testified for US prosecutors at Atilla’s trial. Zarrab said that Iran, with the help of Halkbank and Turkish government officials including Erdogan, used a complex web of shell companies and sham transactions in gold, food and medicine to get around US sanctions.

 

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