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US authorities arrest Halkbank exec over Iran sanctions violations

U.S. prosecutors on March 28 arrested Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a deputy general manager at Türkiye Halk Bankasi AS, on charges of conspiring to commit bank fraud and violating U.S. sanctions against Iran, Reuters reported the same day.

Atilla is accused of colluding with Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab to carry out millions of dollars of alleged illicit transactions through U.S. banks on behalf of the Iranian government and companies based in Iran. Zarrab, who was at the center of a bribery scandal in 2013, was arrested in March 2016. Zarrab has denied the charges in his case and is awaiting an Aug. 21 trial, the report added.

Atilla's arrest expands a case that drew flak from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who said U.S. authorities were operating with "ulterior motives" in prosecuting Zarrab, Reuters noted.

Halkbank confirmed Atilla's arrest in a March 29 statement and said it will provide an update regarding the matter as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavusoglu told broadcaster TRT Haber that Atilla's arrest will be discussed with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who is due to visit Ankara this week, Reuters reported March 29, noting that Halkbank's shares fell by up to 16% the same day following the news of Atilla's arrest.