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Aug 09 2018

Sanctions-busting Halkbank at centre of Turkey-U.S. crisis

Turkish demands for clemency over the breach of U.S. sanctions by a banking official and the state-run Halkbank appears to be snagging an agreement over Turkey’s release of U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson.

In talks in Washington on Wednesday, a Turkish delegation raised concerns about Halkbank, which is under investigation by the U.S. Treasury for its alleged role in evading sanctions, Bloomberg reported citing a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

U.S. officials told the Turks they wouldn’t discuss relief for Halkbank, or one of its bankers currently in a U.S. jail, until Brunson was freed, the official said, according to the news wire.

Turkey’s lira is hitting consecutive lows against the dollar, raising fears of an economic meltdown, due to the crisis with the United States and as inflation surges. The United States imposed sanctions on two Turkish ministers last week for their part in the internment of Brunson, prompting the announcement of reciprocal measures by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan . The lira has lost about 30 percent of its value this year.

Evidence provided by the prosecution in the New York trial of Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a deputy CEO of Halkbank, in January alleged that senior Turkish officials, including Erdoğan  himself, knew of the scheme to circumvent the U.S. sanctions using falsified documents. Erdoğan  says Atilla is completely innocent of the charges and branded the trial as a conspiracy against his government, Atilla is now serving jail time.

Erdoğan  also denies that Turkey is holding Brunson and several other Americans, including three local consular officials, as bargaining chips.

Turkey has also demanded the extradition of Fethullah Gulen, the Pennsylvania-based preacher it accuses of instigating a botched coup in July 2016.

The U.S. isn’t considering extraditing Gulen, according to the official, Bloomberg reported. The U.S. judiciary has maintained that Turkey has failed to provide sufficient evidence against Gulen.