Turkey’s Halkbank files a new motion insisting on judge standing down

The U.S. lawyers of Turkey’s state-run Halkbank filed a new motion on Tuesday renewing a demand that federal judge Richard Berman recuse himself from the case due to remarks he made in Turkey in 2014.

The Southern District of New York (SDNY) federal court released an indictment last October accusing Halkbank 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.

Halkbank lawyers claim that Berman, by participating in a conference in Istanbul in 2014 and giving quotes to the now defunct newspaper Today's Zaman, which was tied to the Gülen movement, was not impartial and should stand down from the case. The Turkish government blames the Gülen movement for orchestrating the failed coup attempt in 2016, and designated the group as a terrorist organisation called “FETÖ.” 

Halkbank's defence team has argued that 17-25 December 2013 corruption cases launched against close allies and family members of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was a vendetta by the prosecutors linked to the Gülen movement.

U.S. government prosecutors opposed the motion to have Berman stand down, stating that his remarks were in the context of “rule of law” and “justice”, and nothing to do with the 17-25 December corruption cases.

The case against Halkbank is linked to a previous sanctions-busting case that convicted one of Halkbank's top executives, Mehmet Hakan Atilla in early 2018, following the admission in 2017 by Iranian-Turkish gold trader Reza Zarrab of his central role in coordinating the sanctions evasion with Halkbank.

Zarrab had explained in court how the scheme worked to help the Iranian regime take billions of dollars out of the Halkbank safes, and out of Turkey, through a series of fraudulent transactions via shell companies while misstating the nature of the trade to evade detection from the U.S. authorities.

In 2016, before he began cooperating with prosecutors, Zarrab also filed a move to have Berman stand down from the case under similar grounds but it was rejected by the judge.