Oct. 16 (UPI) -- Federal prosecutors have charged a Turkish state-run bank with funneling billions of dollars to Iran, a violation of U.S. sanctions.
The Justice Department said Tuesday Halkbank has been indicted on six charges, including conspiracy, bank fraud and money laundering.
Prosecutors said the bank conspired to undermine U.S. sanctions against Tehran by illegally giving Iran access to billions while "deceiving U.S. regulators."
"This is one of the most serious Iran sanctions violations we have seen, and no business should profit from evading our laws or risking our national security," Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers said in a statement.
The department said the scheme also involved Turkish government officials so the bank could use money service businesses and front companies in Iran and the United Arab Emirates to cover up proceeds from the sales of Iranian oil and gas.
In some cases, the charges say, transactions were fraudulently designed to appear as food and medicine purchases -- so they'd be allowed under a "humanitarian exception" in the sanctions.
Halkbank illegally transferred $20 billion worth of restricted Iranian funds, prosecutors said.
"The bank's audacious conduct was supported and protected by high-ranking Turkish government officials, some of whom received millions of dollars in bribes to promote and protect the scheme," U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said. "Halkbank will now have to answer for its conduct in an American court."
The indictment stems from the arrest of a Turkish banker in 2016 for evading U.S. sanctions. The banker agreed to a deal with prosecutors to cooperate with investigators. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan subsequently asked both the Obama and Trump administrations, unsuccessfully, to drop the case.