Halkbank rejects fugitive status in Iran sanctions-busting case

Turkish state-run Halkbank rejected accusations by U.S. prosecutors that it is a “fugitive” for failing to appear in a Manhattan court to enter a plea against criminal charges that it helped evade U.S. sanctions on Iran.

Attending the trial might be regarded as accepting the court’s jurisdiction, Halkbank said in a filing made public on Wednesday, Reuters reported late on Wednesday.

“As a corporation, Halkbank cannot be a ‘fugitive’ since it has no physical body to present,” the bank said. Halkbank does not have a branch in the United States.

Charges against Halkbank, as well as Turkish ministers and senior officials, for allegedly helping Iran circumvent U.S. sanctions have intensified diplomatic discord between Turkey and the United States. The U.S. Department of Justice brought the case against Halkbank last month after U.S. President Donald Trump penalised Ankara for a decision to start a military incursion into northern Syria.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has labelled the case as false and politically motivated, denying that Halkbank or Turkish officials broke the U.S. sanctions regime.

A Manhattan jury convicted Halkbank deputy CEO Mehmet Hakan Atilla of conspiring to help Iran evade sanctions in a criminal trial that ended in January. Atilla returned to Turkey in July to become head of the Istanbul Stock Exchange after serving out a jail sentence.

Evidence in the trial of Atilla lent heavily on the testimony of Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab, who turned state’s witness in the case. Zarrab is under FBI protection and reportedly continues to provide U.S. authorities with information in the case pertaining to Halkbank.