Spotlight: Turkey snubs U.S. charges against Halkbank as politically motivated

Source: Xinhua| 2019-10-25 20:14:02|Editor: Li Xia
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ANKARA, Oct. 25 (Xinhua) -- Turkey has rejected fraud and money laundering charges filed by the United States against its Halkbank, arguing they are politically motivated amid differences over Syria between the two NATO allies.

On Oct. 16, Halkbank, one of Turkey's biggest state-owned lenders and financial institutions, was charged by the New York Manhattan Federal Court over its alleged participation in a massive 20 billion U.S. dollars scheme to evade U.S. sanctions imposed on Iran.

Halkbank rejected the charges and said they were filed as part of the U.S. administration's sanctions package in response to Turkey's contentious military incursion into Syria, launched on Oct. 9, against a U.S.-backed Kurdish faction in northern Syria.

On Wednesday, the bank and its U.S. lawyers refused to accept a legal summons or acknowledge U.S. authority in the matter.

But this apparent snub of U.S. jurisdiction led the Federal prosecutors with the Manhattan U.S. attorney's office to deem Halkbank as a "fugitive" which would make matter even worse for the bank.

If Halkbank fails to show again on a new summon scheduled for Nov. 5, it will face sanctions and a fine, judges warned, according to U.S. press reports.

Meanwhile, the Turkish cross-border operation into Syria has ended amid a deal brokered on Tuesday between Turkey and Russia, following a similar agreement with the United States which has subsequently lifted a series of sanctions imposed merely one week ago that were mostly symbolic.

Amid an impeachment inquiry, U.S. President Donald Trump has been accused of abandoning the Kurdish militia considered instrumental in defeating the Islamic State in Syria by ordering a withdrawal of U.S. forces, allowing Turkish troops to cross the Syrian border.

However, the timing of the U.S. charges on the Turkish bank has been largely seen by Ankara and its economic leadership as a retaliatory move towards Turkey's offensive in Syria which caused a domestic crisis in the United States.

In Ankara, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lambasted the "ugly" decision by U.S. prosecutors and warned that he would not be deterred by threats.

"The timing of the indictment is very meaningful. It coincided with Turkey's operation in Syria. The whole affair has been conveniently taken out of the closet where it was put on the shelf, and revived," argued economist Enver Erkan from Istanbul-based Terra Investment.

The expert told Xinhua that geopolitics seems to have a direct link with the charges filed against the Turkish bank, used as "an economic weapon" against Turkish interests.

According to sources familiar with the matter, the latest criminal charges were filed after more than a year of interventions by the Turkish leader and other government officials trying to avoid a criminal prosecution against the bank and save the country's banking credibility amid an ailing economy.

Ankara's officials have expressed concerns to their U.S. interlocutors that a multibillion-dollar penalty could threaten the viability of the bank and also hit the overall economy.

The latest charges are part of a criminal case that became public in 2016 with the arrest in Miami of a Turkish-Iranian gold trader with a shadowy past, Reza Zarrab, accused of playing a central role along with Halkbank in a vast scheme to help Iran evade U.S. sanctions through gold transactions.

The next year, prosecutors in New York confirmed the conviction of a senior Halkbank executive Hakan Atilla, who served 28 months in jail before returning to Turkey last July, where he received a "hero's welcome" by government ministers who denounced an "unjust conviction."

Atilla has been appointed on Monday by Finance Minister Berat Albayrak the general manager of Turkey's main stock exchange while Fitch Ratings put his former bank on "rating watch negative" following the criminal charges.

A Turkish banker on condition of anonymity told Xinhua that although Turkey was trying to downplay the criminal initiative, charges against Halkbank are "very serious and may eventually spell problem for the economy in case Halkbank is sentenced to pay a fine."

"If the fine is heavy, it might have an impact on the economy which is recovering from a recession and also the whole Turkish banking system," added the source.