The US Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected the claim of sovereign immunity under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) by a Turkish bank accused of violating Iran sanctions in a case that has added tensions to ties between Washington and Ankara, Agence France-Presse reported.
Halkbank was hit with US criminal charges in 2019 that it took part in a yearlong scheme to launder billions of dollars’ worth of Iranian oil and natural gas proceeds, violating sanctions on Iran.
The funds were used to buy gold and the transactions were disguised as food and medicine purchases in order to fall under a humanitarian exemption to the sanctions, according to court documents.
As part of the scheme, Halkbank allegedly used front companies to funnel $20 billion to Iran, including $1 billion through the US financial system, the US Justice Department said.
The United States charged the bank with six counts of fraud, money laundering, and sanctions offenses, calling it one of the most serious sanctions-breaking cases it has seen.
Halkbank claimed that the FSIA, which protects foreign leaders and governments from lawsuits in the United States, extends to state-owned businesses.
But the Supreme Court said the act focuses on civil actions and does not provide immunity from criminal acts.
“The act says not a word about criminal proceedings against foreign states or their instrumentalities,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote in the ruling.
The case has come at a particularly fraught time for relations between the United States and Turkey, a NATO ally that nevertheless frequently tests Western views, including on defense and Middle Eastern politics.
Turkey’s cooperation with the United States and NATO over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has also been crucial.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has repeatedly rejected the allegations facing Halkbank, insisting that Turkey did not violate the US embargo on Iran.
He accused his political rivals of fabricating the case.
Multiple individuals have already been found guilty in the case, including Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a deputy director general of the bank, who was convicted in 2018.
Atilla was jailed in the US for a year and then released in 2019, and was greeted as a hero upon his return to Turkey.