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The United States Supreme Court is debating whether the federal government can pursue criminal charges against Turkey’s state-owned bank, a case that has raised legal questions among justices and legal analysts about sovereign immunity even as Turkish officials are due to meet their US counterparts in Washington this week, the Washington Post reported.
The case concerns Turkey’s Halkbank, which US prosecutors have accused of helping to launder billions of dollars between 2012 and 2016 to help Iran evade at least economic sanctions imposed by the US.
The initial allegations against Halkbank arose during the Trump administration, threatening President Donald Trump’s close relationship with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
At least one bank official has pleaded guilty to the scheme.
Halkbank’s lawyer, Lisa S. Blatt, said the institution is an arm of the Turkish government and therefore shielded by precedent that prohibits one nation from pulling another into its courts for criminal prosecution.
She added that the 1976 Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) limits American courts’ jurisdiction over cases against foreign countries.
Still, two lower US courts had previously ruled that the bank had no sovereign immunity.
Meanwhile, Justice Department representatives said that the bank did not have immunity and that the FSIA does not apply to criminal prosecutions. Even if it did, the Halkbank case would fall under the law’s provision for misconduct involving commercial activities, they noted.
The case has raised concerns among justices over whether to rule in favor of prosecuting Halkbank because such a move could prompt prosecutions of other sovereign nations and their entities, even in state courts. Alternatively, it puts decisions of national security and international relations in the court’s hands, justices added.
The pending case comes as Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu visits the US to meet with his American counterpart, Antony Blinken.
Part of the visit involves the aim of smoothing out a series of disagreements between the NATO allies, including the Halkbank case and Turkey’s purchase of Russian-made missiles, the Associated Press wrote.