Curtis Bradley Examines the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act and Criminal Prosecutions

Turkiye Halk Bankasi A.S. v. United States, Part 1: The FSIA and Criminal Prosecutions

On Jan. 17, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in Turkiye Halk Bankasi A.S. v. United States, a case that raises the question whether the U.S. government can criminally prosecute corporations owned by foreign states. The petitioner, Türkiye Halk Bankasi A.Ş. (Halkbank), a corporation owned and controlled by Turkey, maintains that the federal criminal jurisdiction conferred by 18 U.S.C. § 3231 does not permit prosecutions of foreign sovereigns or their instrumentalities, and that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), 28 U.S.C. § 1330 et seq., precludes criminal jurisdiction over foreign sovereigns and their instrumentalities. The respondent, the United States, argues primarily that 18 U.S.C. § 3231 confers criminal jurisdiction over foreign sovereign instrumentalities, that the FSIA applies only to civil actions and does not confer any immunity in criminal cases, and that the government has the authority to determine sovereign immunity in criminal cases. 

We will preview Halkbank in two parts. In this article, we lay out the background of the case and assess the proper interpretation of the FSIA as it applies to criminal prosecutions. In a second article, we discuss how federal courts should address the question of foreign sovereign immunity in criminal cases if, as the government argues, foreign sovereigns and their instrumentalities lack immunity under federal statutory law.

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