US prosecutor drops appeal to extend Turkish banker’s sentence

A thaw in relations has resulted in Turkey and the US discussing the return of Hakan Atilla to Turkey, where he can serve the remainder of his sentence. Above, a branch of Halkbank in Istanbul. (AFP)
Updated 07 December 2018
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US prosecutor drops appeal to extend Turkish banker’s sentence

  • A US court sentenced Hakan Atilla, an executive from Halkbank, to 32 months in prison in May for helping Iran evade US sanctions
  • Tensions between the NATO allies accelerated a lira sell-off this year, although the currency’s performance has improved in tandem with diplomatic ties

ANKARA: New York prosecutors have withdrawn an appeal to extend the sentence of a former executive at Turkey’s state-owned lender Halkbank, said Turkey’s state-owned Anadolu news agency.

Halkbank shares rose nearly 4 percent after the report as market participants saw the move as further indication of an improvement in diplomatic ties between Washington and Ankara.

A US court sentenced Hakan Atilla, an executive from Halkbank, to 32 months in prison in May for helping Iran evade US sanctions in a case that has strained already tense ties between NATO allies Ankara and Washington.

Halkbank, which denies any wrongdoing, has since faced potential US fines in relation to the case, which Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has condemned as a political attack against his government.

The Turkish news agency Anadolu, without citing sources, said the New York prosecutor’s office had originally filed the appeal, saying the sentence was too short. It said the court had asked prosecutors to present details of the appeal by Dec. 6, but that the appeal had later been withdrawn.

No further details were immediately available and the New York prosecutor’s office was not available for comment, having yet to open on Friday morning.

Halkbank’s dollar-denominated bonds jumped 0.74 cents to 84.70 cents after the report.

Last month, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said after talks with US officials in Washington that the two sides had discussed returning Atilla to Turkey where he can serve the rest of his sentence.

Erdogan also said last month that he had discussed the case of Halkbank with US President Donald Trump, saying the talks were on a “positive path.” He said, without elaborating, that Trump had told him “he would instruct the relevant ministers immediately” regarding the case.

Atilla is expected to be released on July 25, Anadolu said. He had already served 14 months when he was sentenced.

“It is good news that the US prosecutor’s office is not appealing to have the sentence prolonged or extended — it’s a sign of improving relations between Turkey and the US,” said SEB’s Per Hammarlund.

Tensions between the NATO allies accelerated a lira sell-off this year, although the currency’s performance has improved in tandem with diplomatic ties.

Relations between Ankara and Washington began to improve after US pastor Andrew Brunson, who was on trial over terror-related charges in Turkey, was released in October.

They remain divided on a host of other issues, including US policy in Syria and Turkey’s request for the United States to extradite Fethullah Gulen, a cleric Ankara blames for organizing the 2016 abortive putsch. Gulen denies involvement.


China-US trade talks ‘making a final sprint’ — state media

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping as U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, left, and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, right, look on before proceeding to their meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China February 15, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 16 February 2019
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China-US trade talks ‘making a final sprint’ — state media

  • US duties on $200 billion in imports from China are set to rise to 25 percent from 10 percent if there is no deal by March 1 to address US demands

SHANGHAI: Chinese state media on Saturday expressed cautious optimism over trade talks between the United States and China, a day after President Xi Jinping said a week of discussions had produced “step-by-step” progress.
Xi made the comments at a meeting on Friday with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in Beijing, after a week of senior- and deputy-level talks.
The People’s Daily, the official paper of the ruling Communist Party, said in a commentary that Xi’s meeting with US negotiators had affirmed progress made in previous talks and “injected new impetus into the next stage of the development of Sino-US trade relations.”
The talks “have made important progress” for the next round of negotiations in Washington next week, the paper said in its domestic edition.
“It is hoped that the two sides will maintain the good momentum of the current consultations and strive to reach an agreement within the set time limit,” it said.
US duties on $200 billion in imports from China are set to rise to 25 percent from 10 percent if there is no deal by March 1 to address US demands that China curb forced technology transfers and better enforce intellectual property rights.
In its overseas edition, the People’s Daily said “zero-sum thinking and games where you lose and I win can only create losses for both. Only on a basis of mutual respect and equal treatment, through dialogue and consultation, can we find a solution acceptable to both sides.”
An English-language editorial in the Global Times, which is published by the People’s Daily, said news that China had consulted on the text of a memorandum of understanding “shows the two sides have made unprecedented progress.”
“The MOU and next week’s talks both show that the seemingly endless China-US trade negotiations, like a marathon, are making a final sprint,” it said.
The newspapers cautioned that any agreement would have to be in the interests of both the United States and China.
“There are still obstacles to be overcome, and no one should underestimate how daunting a task the two sides face trying to resolve all the differences that have long existed between them in one clean sweep,” the official English-language China Daily said in an editorial.