US charges Turkey's Halkbank in Iran sanctions case

AFP File Photo

U.S. federal prosecutors filed charges Tuesday against Turkish lender Halkbank in Manhattan federal court.

A major Turkish bank was criminally charged in an indictment Tuesday with participating in a multibillion-dollar scheme to evade U.S. sanctions against Iran.

The charges against Halkbank, a state-owned bank, were announced years after Turkish-Iranian businessman, Reza Zarrab, was arrested in Florida before pleading guilty and testifying against a co-defendant.

In a release, U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said senior bank officials designed and carried out the scheme to move billions of dollars of Iranian oil revenue illegally.

According to the indictment, Halkbank illegally moved about $20 billion worth of otherwise restricted Iranian funds. It said the bank let Iranian oil and gas money be used to buy gold that was not exported to Iran and let transactions fraudulently designed to appear to be purchases of food and medicine by Iranian customers proceed, qualifying those funds for a "humanitarian exception" allowed under the sanctions.

Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers called the crimes one of the most serious Iran sanctions violations his office has seen.

The indictment of the bank comes in a case that has resulted in charges against nine individuals, including bank employees, the former Turkish Minister of the Economy and other scheme participants. Seven of those individuals remain fugitives.

In July, Zarrab's co-defendant, former Halkbank executive Mehmet Hakan Atilla, was released from U.S. prison after a New York jury found Atilla guilty in January on five counts related to conspiracy and bank fraud through the testimony of Zarrab. He received the punishment of 32 months in prison.

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