Friday, March 21, 2008

Washington: Steer Clear of Iran Central Bank

Bank Markazi, Tehran

By Daniel Dombey and Stephanie Kirchgaessner in Washington (Financial Times)

Washington has called on international financial institutions to steer clear of doing business with Iran’s central bank, in the US’s most wide-ranging attempt yet to isolate Tehran financially.

The Treasury department has issued a warning of the risks of doing business with 51 state-owned and seven privately held Iranian banks – in effect the whole of Iran’s banking sector.

The list includes institutions specialising in export financing and foreign investment, as well as Iranian state-owned banks located as far away as Venezuela, Hong Kong and the UK.

The move is an attempt to raise pressure on Tehran through measures that fall short of formal sanctions but go further than the private warnings US officials have delivered to regulators and financiers in recent months.

Over the past two years, Washington has experienced long delays in its push to get successive rounds of United Nations sanctions agreed and even unilateral US sanctions often take time to put in place because of bureaucratic and legal procedures.

This week, President George W. Bush ramped up the rhetoric on Iran by accusing its government of “announcing they want to destroy countries with a nuclear weapon”. Iran says its nuclear programme is peaceful.

The move against the banks follows the UN Security Council’s recent passage of a sanctions resolution that called on countries to “exercise vigilance” in their dealings with all Iranian banks, but which cited only two Iranian banks by name as being of particular concern. The Treasury department list is also intended to follow up on warnings by the Financial Action Task Force, a 32-country body, about Tehran’s shortcomings in anti-money laundering and terror financing legislation. The US has been considering since last year whether to take formal measures against Bank Markazi, Iran’s central bank, for allegedly funnelling funds to Hizbollah.

Daniel Glaser, deputy assistant Treasury secretary for terrorist financing and financial crimes, said: “It’s very important that we put the central bank on this list of institutions that financial institutions around the world should be closely examining.”

Separately, US financial authorities warned banks of “serious deficiencies” in Uzbekistan’s anti-money laundering programmes.

The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (Fincen), a division of the US Treasury, said Uzbekistan recently passed decrees that suspended the ability of intelligence units to collect and analyse information on transactions involving potential money laundering.

The decrees also barred cooperation with foreign agencies on money laundering issues. Fincen called on banks and other institutions operating in the US to apply increased due diligence to transactions involving correspondent accounts with Uzbekistan. (FT)

Read also: "U.S. imposes sanctions on foreign firms" (2008-03-22)


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