The Supreme Court Takes Up Sovereign Immunity from Criminal Prosecutions
UVA Law Faculty Affiliations
On the first day of the October 2022 Term, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in Türkiye Halk Bankasi A.S. v. United States. The case, put simply, asks whether the U.S. government can bring criminal prosecutions against foreign companies owned by foreign sovereigns. The United States has charged Halkbank, in which Turkey’s sovereign wealth fund has a seventy-five percent interest, with sanctions evasion, bank fraud, and money laundering. Halkbank argues that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) bars this prosecution and all like it. The Second Circuit rejected that claim, and the Solicitor General told the Court that the case wasn’t certworthy. Nonetheless, a grant ensued.
Given the profusion of state-owned companies in the world economy, especially (though not only) in the financial sector, a ruling in favor of Halkbank would have enormous consequences. Chimène Keitner reviewed the issue on this blog shortly after Halkbank signaled its intent to seek the Court’s review. She recognized the importance of the question and defended U.S. criminal jurisdiction against the FSIA argument. At the time, very few people (by which I mean, not me) thought the Court would take the bait. Yet it has, leaving us to puzzle out why and what may happen next.