UPDATE 1-Turkey’s Halkbank pleads not guilty to U.S. criminal charges

FILE PHOTO: A view shows the logo of Halkbank at its headquarters in Atasehir, in the Asian part of Istanbul December 17, 2013. REUTERS/Murad Sezer/File Photo

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Turkey’s state-owned Halkbank (HALKB.IS) on Tuesday pleaded not guilty to criminal charges in a federal court in Manhattan that it helped Iran evade U.S. sanctions, in a case that has strained relations between the United States and Turkey.

The plea – to charges including conspiracy, bank fraud and money laundering – was entered by the bank’s U.S. lawyer at a hearing conducted by telephone conference because of the coronavirus pandemic.

U.S. prosecutors have accused Halkbank of using money servicers and front companies in Iran, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates to evade sanctions through sham transactions in gold, food and medicine.

The charges, announced last October, followed related charges brought by prosecutors against nine individuals since 2016.

They included former Halkbank executive Mehmet Hakan Atilla, who was convicted in the same federal court in Manhattan in January 2018 after another defendant, wealthy Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab, pleaded guilty and testified against him.

Atilla returned to Turkey last year after leaving prison, and became general manager of the Istanbul Stock Exchange.

The case is U.S. v. Halkbank, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 15-cr-00867.

Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis

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