By Brendan Pierson
NEW YORK (Reuters) – A lawyer for Turkey’s state-owned Halkbank (IS:), which has been criminally charged by U.S. prosecutors with helping Iran evade sanctions, said in a letter on Monday that it would seek to dismiss the case and have the judge assigned to it recuse himself.
In a letter to U.S. District Judge Richard Berman in Manhattan, Andrew Hruska, a lawyer for Halkbank, said the bank was not agreeing to appear in court on the charges. He asked that he be allowed to represent the bank for the limited purpose of arguing the dismissal and recusal motions.
A hearing is scheduled in the case on Tuesday, and prosecutors have said they may seek a fine against Halkbank if it refuses to appear.
A spokesman for the office of Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman, which is prosecuting the case, declined to comment. Hruska did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan brought the criminal charges against Halkbank on Oct. 16. The bank called the charges an escalation of Washington’s sanctions on Ankara over its military incursion in Syria, while Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan called them an “unlawful, ugly” step.
Hruska said in Monday’s letter that the bank’s “incidental contacts with the U.S. are insufficient to establish… jurisdiction” in the New York federal court.
He also said that Judge Berman must recuse himself because he had “made statements both in and out of the courtroom that call into question the court’s impartiality,” without giving details.
The judge previously presided over a criminal case against Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab and Halkbank director Mehmet Hakan Atilla. Zarrab had moved for Berman’s recusal on the grounds that he made statements critical of the Turkish government while attending a 2014 symposium in Istanbul.
Zarrab pleaded guilty before trial and testified against Atilla, who was convicted and sentenced to 32 months in prison. Atilla returned to Turkey earlier this year after serving his sentence, and has been named general manager of the Istanbul stock exchange.
U.S. prosecutors have said that Zarrab, Atilla, Halkbank and multiple Turkish government officials took part in a scheme between 2012 and 2016 to help Iran spend revenue from oil and gas sales abroad using sham food and gold transactions, in violation of U.S. sanctions.
At the time of Atilla’s trial, Erdogan condemned the case as a political attack on his government.
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