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Turkish bank is 'fugitive' in sanctions evasion case, US says

NEW YORK -- A U.S. prosecutor called Turkey's Halkbank a "fugitive" after lawyers for the state-owned bank failed to appear in an American courtroom on charges that it evaded sanctions on Iran. Turkiye Bank Halkasi AS was charged last week with scheming to help Iran tap $20 billion in frozen overseas accounts.

The case was filed amid a flurry of U.S. sanctions on Turkey in response to its invasion of Syria earlier in the week.

But an American lawyer who has been representing the bank in negotiations with the government, Andrew Hruska of law firm King & Spalding, submitted a letter last week saying he was not allowed to accept service of the indictment or summons on the bank's behalf, and no one appeared on behalf of the bank at a hearing in in Manhattan federal court on Tuesday.

Halkbank has no employees or offices in the U.S., though it does have a correspondent bank account and shares in the bank are listed and traded as American depositary receipts in U.S. markets.

Since the indictment was filed, Turkish officials have said U.S. authorities have no legal jurisdiction over the bank and claimed the charges are false and politically motivated.

 

On Monday, Turkey named a former Halkbank executive who was convicted in a U.S. trial over the sanctions scheme as the new chief executive of the Istanbul stock exchange.

The executive, Mehmet Hakan Atilla, was released from U.S. custody earlier this summer.

In Manhattan on Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Lockard also told the judge that prosecutors may seek to hold Halkbank in contempt. The judge said he was holding off on making a decision.

--Bloomberg News

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