Trump instructed top officials on Halkbank after Erdoğan pressure – report

U.S. President Donald Trump ordered Attorney General William Barr and Treasury Secretary Steven 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, Bloomberg reported.

Trump told Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that Barr and Mnuchin would deal with the issue in an April phone call, Bloomberg said, citing two people familiar with the matter. The prosecution of Halkbank was delayed until this week, when Manhattan prosecutors announced a case had been opened in an undated indictment.

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. Halkbank is a key institution for Erdoğan’s government, helping to funnel cheap loans to the economy and restructure the debts of companies and consumers after a currency crisis erupted in the summer of last year.

The intervention by Trump to get his cabinet ministers involved in a federal investigation was unusual. Bloomberg said discussions on an out-of-court settlement for the alleged transgressions by one of Turkey’s biggest state-run banks made little progress before Barr took over as attorney general in February.

During the summer the White House sought to prevent Erdoğan and his top advisers from pestering Trump on the matter, according to one person. Among those who sought to engage Trump was Ibrahim Kalin, Erdoğan’s presidential spokesman and foreign policy adviser, and Abdulhamit Gul, Turkey’s justice minister, Bloomberg said.

Barr told Gul that Turkey’s best option would be to strike a deferred prosecution deal in which Halkbank accepted responsibility, promised to avoid further wrongdoing and pay a fine. The Turkish government finally refused because such an agreement would have constituted an admission of guilt, one person said, according to Bloomberg.

This week’s undated indictment -- it is unclear exactly when it was filed -- raises the question as to whether Trump deferred its implementation until it became politically expedient to do so, Bloomberg said.