Justia Summary

Halkbank is owned by the Republic of Turkey. The United States indicted Halkbank for conspiracy to evade economic sanctions imposed by the United States on Iran by laundering Iranian oil and gas proceeds and making false statements to the Treasury Department. Two individuals, including a former Halkbank executive, have been convicted for their roles in the conspiracy. The Second Circuit affirmed the denial of Halkbank’s motion to dismiss.

The Supreme Court held that the district court has jurisdiction under the general federal criminal jurisdiction statute, 18 U.S.C. 3231; the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), 28 U.S.C. 1330 does not provide immunity.

Section 3231’s text encompasses the charged offenses; the Court declined to limit the broad jurisdictional grant to exclude suits against foreign states and their instrumentalities “simply because” unrelated U.S. Code provisions “happen to expressly reference foreign states and instrumentalities.”

FSIA’s text exclusively addresses civil suits against foreign states and their instrumentalities. Although most litigation involving foreign states and their instrumentalities at the time of the FSIA’s 1976 enactment was civil, the Executive Branch occasionally attempted to subject foreign-government-owned entities to federal criminal investigations. Given that history, it is unlikely that Congress sought to codify foreign sovereign immunity from criminal proceedings without mentioning such proceedings. Congress housed FSIA within Title 28, which mostly concerns civil procedure, not in Title 18, which addresses crimes and criminal procedure. Under Halkbank’s view, a commercial business that is owned by a foreign state could engage in criminal conduct affecting U.S. citizens and threatening U.S. national security while facing no criminal accountability in U.S. courts. The Court rejected various arguments that U.S. criminal proceedings against instrumentalities of foreign states would negatively affect national security and foreign policy. The Court remanded for consideration of arguments regarding common-law immunity.