The Turkish bank is being prosecuted for fraud, money laundering, and obstruction of US sanctions against Iran, a statement from the US Department of Justice said.
From 2012 to 2016, Halkbank "conspired to undermine US sanctions against the Iranian regime by allowing Iran to access billions of dollars in funds, while deceiving the US regulator on these operations," said the minister. Deputy John Demers, quoted in the release.
"This is one of the most serious violations of the sanctions regime we have seen," he added.
"What we are saying today is that Halkbank, a financial institution majority-owned by the Turkish government, has deliberately engaged in misleading activities to circumvent US sanctions against Iran", and this "with the participation and protection of senior Iranian and Turkish officials, "said the US Department.
The charges are the same as those that had prompted a former deputy director of the bank, Mehmet Hakan Atilla, to be sentenced in New York in January 2018, after a lawsuit that implicated the president. Turkish Recep Tayyip Erdogan and several Turkish ministers.
Nine people in total had been charged in the United States in this case, even if Mr. Atilla had found himself alone in the dock, overwhelmed by the leading witness of the prosecution, the Turkish-Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab, well known in Turkey, who had agreed to cooperate with the US government.
The latter had described in detail the complex scheme established to circumvent the sanctions, involving gold trafficking and fictitious deliveries of food between Iran, Turkey and Dubai.
Since the conviction of Mr Atilla, released in July by early anticipation, Halkbank was in the sights of New York prosecutors and risked a colossal fine.
The case was one of the difficult topics regularly discussed between Ankara and Washington in recent months, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had pleaded with the Trump administration that the bank should not be prosecuted.
The announcement of the Halkbank indictment comes in a particularly tense climate: the Trump government, accused of causing chaos by not opposing the Turkish offensive, wants to show that it does not spare Turkey and Monday imposed first sanctions against Ankara to push her to stop his offensive.
The US Congress threatens to pass even tougher punitive measures, while US Vice President Mike Pence will meet with Erdogan on Thursday with the stated goal of securing a ceasefire.
cat / cjc