U.S. prosecutors filed criminal charges against Turkey’s Halkbank, accusing it of fraud, money laundering and violating U.S. sanctions against Iran, in a case that Turkish President Recep Erdogan had pressed both President Donald Trump and President Barack Obama to dismiss.
Prosecutors accused the bank of participating in a sweeping scheme to violate prohibitions on Iran’s access to the U.S. financial system, involving high-ranking government officials in Iran and Turkey.
The indictment was filed Tuesday in Manhattan federal court
Senior Halkbank management’s participated “in this brazen scheme to circumvent our nation’s Iran sanctions regime,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a statement. “Halkbank’s systemic participation in the illicit movement of billions of dollars’ worth of Iranian oil revenue was designed and executed by senior bank officials.”
At the center of the U.S. case was Reza Zarrab, a flamboyant Turkish gold trader who said he’d helped Iran tap funds from overseas oil sales that was frozen in foreign accounts. He became the star witness in the case against a Halkbank executive, Mehmet Hakan Atilla, who was convicted in early 2018.
Zarrab, who’s married to a Turkish pop star, had a tabloid lifestyle of yachts, fast cars and an office in a Trump Tower in Istanbul. After he was detained during a 2016 trip to the U.S., he added Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s confidante, to his legal team.
Giuliani attempted to broker a diplomatic deal with Turkey to extract Zarrab from U.S. custody, attempting to swap him for an American pastor, Andrew Brunson, who was in Turkish custody.
Giuliani’s role apparently went deeper. At Giuliani’s urging, in the second half of 2017, Trump asked then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to press the Justice Department to drop its case against Zarrab, Bloomberg News reported last week.
Giuliani, in an interview last week, said he talked to the State Department in his role as Zarrab’s lawyer and said he behaved ethically and legally. He would have been a hero had he arranged the swap with Brunson, he said. READ MORE: