Trump ordered review of U.S. sanctions on Turkey’s Halkbank

Joe Light

President Donald Trump told the Treasury Department and Justice Department to look into the impact of U.S. sanctions on a Turkish state-owned bank after being lobbied by Turkey’s president, a Treasury official acknowledged in a letter last week to a top Democratic senator.

The letter, sent in response to queries by Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, outlined seven meetings Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had with senior Turkish officials from April 2017 through this month, but didn’t detail what was discussed or answer other questions posed by Wyden, who is the senior Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee.

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump stand for photographs with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his wife Emine Erdogan before a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House, Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019, in Washington.

Bloomberg News reported in October that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made repeated entreaties to Trump to avoid charges against Halkbank, one of Turkey’s largest lenders. Trump assigned Mnuchin and Attorney General William Barr to look into the issue after an April phone call with Erdogan.

After the call, no action was taken against the bank for months. That changed in October, when U.S. prosecutors unveiled an undated indictment accusing the bank of fraud, money laundering and violating U.S. sanctions against Iran.

Wyden in an October letter to Mnuchin demanded that the Treasury provide information as part of an inquiry into whether he or other administration officials interfered with the U.S. investigation.

Treasury Deputy Assistant Secretary Frederick Vaughan, in the response last week, said Turkish officials expressed concern at some meeting about the impact on Halkbank of U.S. sanctions against Iran.

“The U.S. government treats pending criminal matters with utmost sensitivity, and Treasury is unable to comment on any ongoing prosecution of potential sanctions violations or potential investigations thereof,” Vaughan wrote.

Wyden in a statement said the Treasury’s response was unsatisfactory and “raises more questions than it answers.”

“Halkbank stands accused of the largest Iranian sanctions evasion scheme in U.S. history. Congress needs to know to what extent Donald Trump and his cronies were carrying water for a state-owned Turkish bank and whether they ran the same Ukraine playbook by roping U.S. government officials into their personal scheme,” Wyden said.