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Turkey’s Halkbank shares surge after Iran sanctions trial paused

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Shares of Turkey’s Halkbank <HALKB.IS> jumped as much as 8% on Tuesday after a U.S. appeals court agreed to pause a case alleging that the state-owned lender evaded U.S. sanctions on Iran.

In December, U.S. District Judge Richard Berman rejected a request by the bank to have the charges dropped. But the bank appealed that judgment and, on Monday, the matter was referred to a three-judge appeals court panel.

At 0922 GMT, the bank’s shares were up 6.7%, after earlier surging nearly 8%.

U.S. prosecutors allege that, from 2012 to 2016, Halkbank and its executives used money servicers and front companies in Iran, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates to evade U.S. sanctions on Iran.

The charges, brought in October, mirror those against former Halkbank executive Mehmet Hakan Atilla, who was arrested in New York in 2017 and sentenced to 32 months in prison after a trial in the same court.

Prosecutors said Halkbank undertook transactions on Iran’s behalf that would have exposed the bank to sanctions, including allowing revenue from oil and gas sales to be spent on gold, and facilitating sham purchases of food and medicine.

Halkbank’s lawyers have said the bank’s “incidental contacts” with the United States are insufficient to establish jurisdiction in the New York federal court.

The charges against the bank were announced a day after U.S. President Donald Trump briefly imposed sanctions on Turkey following its launch of a military offensive against Kurdish-led militia in northeastern Syria.

U.S. Senate Finance Committee member Ron Wyden, a Democrat, said he sent a letter on Monday to Attorney General William Barr asking if Trump had tried to intervene on behalf of Halkbank.

He asked Barr to detail his interactions with Trump, President Tayyip Erdogan and Turkish Finance Minister Berat Albayrak.

Noting the charges came days after the Turkish operation in northeast Syria, Wyden added: “I am concerned that absent these actions by the Turkish government, the Administration’s interference in favor of Turkey’s Halkbank requests could have undermined years of effort by U.S. law enforcement.”

Wyden had made the same allegation in October, when U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said the Turks were told the Halkbank case was a matter for the U.S. judiciary.

(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen and Ebru Tuncay; Editing by Jonathan Spicer, Daren Butler and John Stonestreet)