U.S. law firm suggests Halkbank not fugitive in Iran sanctions-busting case

U.S. law firm King & Spalding on Monday said Turkey’s state-owned Halkbank could not be labelled as a fugitive for failing to appear at a Manhattan court to enter a plea against criminal charges since corporations cannot be fugitives.

Halkbank is facing charges over a scheme to help Iran evade U.S. sanctions that an executive at the bank, Mehmet Hakan Atilla, was convicted for last year. Atilla was sentenced to 32 months in prison for running the scheme, which allowed the Iranian government to spend money abroad using fraudulent food and gold transactions through Halkbank.

"The Bank is not, and cannot be, a fugitive. The prosecution suggests that the 'principles' underlying the fugitive disentitlement doctrine apply to corporations, but never actually claims that the doctrine applies to Halkbank," King & Spalding attorney Andrew Hruska said in a letter to U.S. Federal Judge Richard Berman.

Manhattan prosecutors issued an indictment on Oct. 16 against Halkbank for engaging in the sanctions-busting scheme. The case could result in heavy fines and could see Halkbank barred from the U.S. financial system.

The U.S. federal judge overseeing the case called the majority state-owned bank a fugitive after it failed to send representatives to a hearing on Oct. 22, and denied Halkbank's request for a special appearance in the case.