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US prosecutors charge Turkey's Halkbank over Iran sanctions violations

U.S. prosecutors have filed charges against Türkiye Halk Bankası AŞ for allegedly taking part in a multibillion-dollar scheme to evade U.S. sanctions against Iran, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The Istanbul-based bank faces six criminal counts, including bank fraud and money laundering, according to an indictment. Federal prosecutors in Manhattan said the Istanbul-based bank and its officials used money service businesses and front companies in countries, including Iran, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, to circumvent restrictions on Iran's access to the U.S. financial system.

The authorities alleged that some Turkish and Iranian government officials benefited in the sum of tens of millions of dollars by promoting and concealing the scheme, which purportedly occurred between 2012 and 2016. The scheme also helped Turkey by artificially making its economy appear stronger than it was, according to the Journal.

The indictment is the latest development in a U.S. criminal investigation into sanctions evasion involving Halkbank. In May 2018, the bank's former deputy director general, Mehmet Hakan Atilla, was sentenced to 32 months in prison after being found guilty of conspiring to carry out illicit transactions on behalf of Iran. The Turkish government reportedly said in September 2018 that it did not expect Halkbank to face repercussions related to the sanctions violations.

The charges also came after U.S. President Donald Trump announced economic sanctions against Turkey earlier in the week in response to its military offensive in northeast Syria. Halkbank said the charges are part of the sanctions and therefore represent an "unprecedented legal overreach," Reuters reported.