U.S. court rules to proceed with Halkbank trial in March

Judge Richard Berman of the Southern District of New York has ruled against Turkey’s state-run Halkbank’s request to postpone trial until March 2022, according to Courthouse News reporter Adam Klasfeld.

The trial of Halkbank, where it faces charges of money laundering and U.S. sanctions evasion in favour of Iran, will commence on March 1, 2021, Berman ruled.

The bank’s attorneys had proposed to start the trial in March 2022, citing concerns over coronavirus-related travel restrictions for witnesses.

“This is not a case where we’re starting from scratch,” Courthouse News cited Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Lockard as saying, as the court decided that Halkbank had the opportunity to investigate and prepare sufficiently and refused such a long delay.

Halkbank was indicted last year for its role in circumventing U.S. sanctions against Iran between 2010 and 2016. A former executive of the bank, Mehmet Hakan Atilla, was convicted in 2018 for his role in the evasion scheme. Atilla’s conviction was made possible when another key player, Iranian-Turkish businessman Reza Zarrab agreed to cooperate with U.S. authorities in exchange for leniency regarding his own involvement in the gold trade that formed an important part of the scheme.

The bank repeatedly refused to make a formal appearance in court, and the case had lost momentum with the coronavirus global pandemic setting in.

However, the spotlight shone again on the case when U.S. President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton addressed it in his memoir, The Room Where It Happened.

In the book Bolton said Trump was prepared to intervene in the case and get the charges dropped as a favour to his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.