U.S. Senator Ron Wyden has urged the country’s new attorney general on his first day on the job after the confirmation to take a more transparent stance than his predecessor over the case against Turkish state-run lender Halkbank in a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), website Law & Crime reported on Thursday.
Halkbank is accused by U.S. prosecutors of involvement in a massive scheme to evade sanctions on Iran. Halkbank’s former top executive Hakan Atilla was convicted for his role in the trials held in 2017 and early 2018. U.S. prosecutors released another indictment in October 2019, this time targeting Halkbank and pushing forth money laundering and fraud charges. Halkbank’s lawyers appealed the case, which is currently looked at by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump reportedly sought to intervene to have the case dropped at the behest of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
But the new U.S. administration under President Joe Biden is expected to resume the case under Attorney General Merrick Garland.
“While the Department has failed to cooperate with my investigation, I will continue to seek answers as to why former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was directed by former President Trump to improperly intervene in a criminal investigation into the evasion of sanctions in response to a pressure campaign by the Turkish government, and whether Secretary Mnuchin sought to halt the investigation and prosecution of Halkbank or reduce any fines imposed by the Department of Justice,” Wyden told Garland in a letter on Thursday, according to Law & Crime.
Wyden served as the Finance Committee’s top Democrat previously, and now as the Democrats took over the majority, became the committee’s chair. Wyden, in his long letter, wrote to new top U.S. Attorney that despite Barr’s promises of help after he wrote two letters to the Department, he did not get any cooperation from the DOJ for his questions.
Wyden in his March 11 letter asked five questions to new Attorney General. The senator wanted to know of any meetings or conversations former Attorney General Bill Barr or any other senior Trump administration officials held with Erdoğan, his former finance minister and son-in-law Berat Albayrak, or any other senior Turkish officials during Barr’s tenure.
Secondly, the senator asked Garland to provide information on any meetings or conversations Barr or any other senior Justice Department officials held with lobbyist Ballard Partners or other lobbyists on behalf of the Turkish government.
Ballard Partners was hired by the Turkish government as lobbyists to work on the case in recent years, and the firm was a mega donor for Trump. The agreement to lobby for the bank was finished following the indictment unveiled by the New York South District.
Wyden also requested any DOJ records relating to communications between Barr or senior political appointees at the department regarding the U.S. government’s investigations of Halkbank, including all phone calls or entries.
Another request by the senator was that he be informed about Steven Mnuchin’s interactions with the DOJ regarding the U.S. investigation into Halkbank.
Finally, Wyden asked for access to all records of communications regarding Halkbank between individuals in the employ of the Executive Office of the President and Barr, or other senior political appointees or employees at the DOJ.