U.S. Treasury Secretary asked to detail interference in Halkbank case

A top Democratic senator asked U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin about his relations with Turkish officials as part of an inquiry into U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration alleged interference with a U.S. criminal investigation into Turkey's Halkbank, Bloomberg reported on Thursday.

Senator Ron Wyden, the ranking Democrat on the finance committee, urged Mnuchin in a letter to provide information about his relationship with Halkbank case, citing reports about his alleged involvement with the case, Bloomberg said.

Wyden was referring to an earlier Bloomberg report which said Trump ordered Attorney General William Barr and Mnuchin to deal with persistent Turkish pressure to drop charges against state-run Halkbank, now accused of seeking to circumvent U.S. sanctions on Iran.

“The administration’s interference in favor of Turkey’s Halkbank requests could have undermined years of effort by U.S. law enforcement,” Bloomberg quoted Wyden's letter as saying.

Halkbank is accused of involvement in a massive scheme to circumvent sanctions on Iran. The indictment states that Turkish-Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab bribed high-ranking officials, including a Turkish minister, to help divert Iranian oil revenues through Halkbank with the help of fictitious trades. 

However, the prosecution of Halkbank was delayed until last week, when Manhattan prosecutors announced a case had been opened in an undated indictment.

"It’s unclear exactly when the Halkbank indictment was filed, raising questions about whether it was set aside until it became politically expedient for the Trump administration to unseal it," Bloomberg said.

In 2017, Trump pressed then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to help convince the Justice Department to drop a criminal case against Zarrab,  who was also a client of Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.