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Turkey's Halkbank pleads not guilty to US criminal charges

File photo of the opening of a Halkbank branch
Opening of a Halkbank branch [File photo]

Turkey’s state-owned Halkbank on Tuesday pleaded not guilty to criminal charges in a federal court in Manhattan that it helped Iran evade US sanctions, in a case that has strained relations between the United States and Turkey.

The plea – to charges including conspiracy, bank fraud, and money laundering – was entered by the bank’s US lawyer at a hearing conducted by telephone conference because of the coronavirus pandemic.

US prosecutors have accused Halkbank of using money servicers and front companies in Iran, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates to evade sanctions through sham transactions in gold, food, and medicine.

READ: Erdogan says Turkey discussing Halkbank with US after Trump call

The charges, announced last October, followed related charges brought by prosecutors against nine individuals since 2016.

They included former Halkbank executive Mehmet Hakan Atilla, who was convicted in the same federal court in Manhattan in January 2018 after another defendant, wealthy Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab pleaded guilty and testified against him.

Atilla returned to Turkey last year after leaving prison and became general manager of the Istanbul Stock Exchange.

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