A look at Trump’s crusade to help Erdoğan in Halkbank case - Foreign Policy
It is U.S. President Donald Trump’s fascination with authoritarian leaders and lack of understanding of the Halkbank case that have been behind behind his push to shield the bank from any penalty over an Iran sanctions busting scheme, Foreign Policy said on Saturday.
The trial of Turkey’s state-owned Halkbank is set to begin in New York on March 1. The bank stands accused of laundering up to $20 billion on behalf of Iranian entities, bank fraud charges, and concealing the nature of these illicit transactions from U.S. officials. Turkey’s government denies complicity in the scheme.
The Trump administration has for four years “repeatedly sought to shield Halkbank from paying any penalty for its role in helping Iran, including firing a pair of federal prosecutors handling the case and asking top cabinet officials to pressure the Justice Department to drop it,’’ the article said.
It is Trump’s lack of understanding of the charges against the bank or how they related to Iran that have prompted him to make such moves, according to John Bolton, former National Security Advisor to Trump.
“Despite being told what Halkbank was being investigated for, I’m still not certain he ever fully appreciated it was for violating U.S. sanctions against Iran and then committing financial fraud by lying about the violations,” Bolton, who had sought to explain the case to the president, told Foreign Policy.
“I don’t think Trump ever fully internalized what the nature of the underlying charges was,” he added.
The years-long scheme came to a halt with the arrest of convicted Iranian-Turkish gold trader Reza Zarrabin Miami in March 2016.
Zarrab was arrested for organising a scheme of circumventing U.S. sanctions on Iran in March 2016. He later flipped to cooperate with U.S. prosecutors in exchange for leniency, which led to the indictment and arrest of Hakan Attila, an executive of Turkey’s state-run Halkbank, in March 2017. Former Turkish ministers, including Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan, were also indicted in the case.
“Almost immediately, and for years afterward, the Turkish government began pressuring U.S. officials to drop the case—starting by leaning on then-Vice President Joe Biden. Erdogan later tried to get then-President Barack Obama to intervene,’’ Foreign Policy said. “Both Biden and Obama flat-out refused.’’
But “Trump appeared perfectly happy to take Erdogan’s side,” on a number of bilateral issues between Ankara and Washington for inexplicable reasons, according to Nicholas Danforth, a non-resident senior research fellow at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy.
Trump’s efforts to accommodate Erdoğan involved undermining the rule of law in the United States, he said, pointing to Turkey’s Russian S-400 purchase and the Halkbank case as examples.
But with new administration in Washington and the upcoming trial, years of Turkish efforts to quash the case may go down the drain, according to Aykan Erdemir, a former member of the Turkish parliament and currently the senior director of the Turkey Program at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
If found guilty, Halkbank would end up frozen out of the U.S. financial system, Foreign Policy said, causing a massive negative effect on Turkey’s already reeling economy.