Turkey’s Halkbank charged in US court as Pence prepares to leave for Ankara

Charges of evading Iran sanctions come as US-Turkey tension grows over Syria

(FILES) In this file photo taken on December 1, 2017, people walk by as a street vendor stands in front of a branch of the Turkish bank Halkbank on in Istanbul.  US federal prosecutors filed criminal charges against Turkey's state-run Halkbank on October 15, 2019, for allegedly participating in a multi-billion-dollar scheme to evade economic sanctions on Iran. The Department of Justice said it had charged the bank with six counts of fraud, money laundering, and sanctions offenses. "This is one of the most serious Iran sanctions violations we have seen," Assistant Attorney General John Demers said in a statement announcing the indictment / AFP / OZAN KOSE
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A major state-owned Turkish bank was charged in New York on Tuesday for fraud, money laundering and breaching US sanctions.

Halkbank was accused of running a “brazen scheme” between 2012 and 2016 to evade US sanctions on Iran. Prosecutors filed the indictment at Manhattan’s Federal Court.

The indictment charged the bank for helping to increase Iran’s revenues from oil and gas sales using front companies, and through knowledge and under protection of officials in Iran and Turkey.

The officials received millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks, the indictment said.

“Halkbank’s systemic participation in the illicit movement of billions of dollars’ worth of Iranian oil revenue was designed and executed by senior bank officials,” attorney Geoffrey Berman said.

The charges came amid rising US-Turkish tension over Ankara’s military incursion into Syria.

The White House announced on Tuesday that Vice President Mike Pence would be leading a delegation to Turkey on Wednesday.

The delegation includes Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien, and special envoy to the coalition against ISIS Jim Jeffrey.

The delegation is expected to meet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday.

Mr Pompeo briefed Congress on Tuesday about his coming trip. The US is hoping to ease the situation in Syria and broker a ceasefire between the Syrian Democratic Forces and Turkey.

Washington has grown increasingly worried about the effect of the fighting on the battle against ISIS, creating an influx of refugees, destabilising the north-east of the country and distracting from the Iran issue, US officials said on Monday.

But Mr Erdogan rejected calls for a ceasefire or negotiations on Tuesday. He told Turkish news channel NTV he will "never declare a ceasefire".

The US has imposed sanctions on Turkey and halted trade talks on Monday.

Congress and the Trump administration could take more measures if Mr Pence’s efforts fail in Ankara.