By Michael Hernandez
WASHINGTON (AA) - The US Supreme Court agreed on Monday to hear Turkish lender Halkbank's case to avoid criminal charges related to alleged efforts to help Iran evade US sanctions.
Halkbank, a state-owned Turkish bank, is seeking to have money laundering, bank fraud and conspiracy charges thrown out on the grounds that it has sovereign immunity under the 1976 Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.
The law establishes limits on whether a foreign sovereign nation or its agencies may be sued in American courts. US prosecutors have accused Halkbank of paying Iran in gold and cash, including forging commerce documents, in return for Iranian oil.
Prosecutors also allege that Halkbank helped Iran transfer $20 billion of oil revenue, of which $1 billion was laundered using the US financial system. Halkbank pleaded not guilty to the charges against it in March.
An appeals court rejected the bank's efforts to have the case thrown out under the 1976 law in December, prompting an appeal to the US top court in May. The Supreme Court has agreed only to hear the case, and has not weighed in on its merits.
The Justice Department has argued that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act applies only to civil cases, not the type of criminal prosecution being pursued against Halkbank.
The case has been ongoing since 2019, one year after Hakan Atilla, 48, the former deputy director-general of the Turkish state lender, was found guilty of participating in a conspiracy to help Iran evade sanctions.