Monday

20th May 2019

EU orders Belgian-based firm to halt Iran bank transfers

  • Swift computers at work. A statement by the US treasury "commended" the EU for its actions (Photo: SWIFT)

The Belgium-based firm which handles international wire transfers, Swift, has said it will block transactions by all EU-sanctioned Iranian banks at 5pm Brussels time on Saturday (17 March).

"Disconnecting banks is an extraordinary and unprecedented step for Swift. It is a direct result of international and multilateral action to intensify financial sanctions against Iran," the company's CEO, Lazaro Campos, said in a statement.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

EU countries ordered Swift to act earlier on Thursday, following pressure from the US, Iran's main antagonist on the world stage.

Its decision became EU law when it was published in the Official Journal on Friday, which said: "It shall be prohibited to supply specialised financial messaging services, which are used to exchange financial data, to the persons and entities referred to in [previous EU sanctions decisions]."

A statement by the US treasury "commended" the EU for its actions, with a special mention for "prompt action" by the Belgian treasury. "Substantially increased pressure is needed to convince the Iranian regime to address the international community’s concerns about its illicit nuclear activities," a US treasury official responsible for counter-terrorism, David S. Cohen, noted.

According to Swift's latest public figures, 19 Iranian banks and 25 related institutions in its system in 2010 sent and received some 2.3 million financial "messages" relating to wire transfers.

The company in total handles $6 trillion of transactions a day worldwide. It had earlier pleaded that EU sanctions should not stop it doing business with designated firms because it first needed to hammer out "the right multilateral legal framework" to address the issue.

For her part, Maja Kocjancic, an EU foreign relations spokeswoman, confirmed that the Swift ban concerns Iranian banks only, but not Syrian banks, which are also on an EU blacklist.

The Iranian banks to be hit by the freeze include the Central Bank of Iran, Bank Tejarat, Onerbank, First East Export Bank, Bank Mellat, the Export Development Bank of Iran, Bank Saderat Iran, Future Bank, Mehr Bank, Bank Melli, Arian Bank, Assa Corporation, Bank Kargoshaie, Bank Refah, Europaisch-Iranische Handelsbank, Export Development Bank of Iran, Post Bank and Bank Sepah.

Most of them are based in Tehran, but the network of subsidiaries and affiliates stretches also to Bahrain, China, Germany, Malaysia and the UK.

EU documents accuse Bank Tejarat, for instance, of helping the country to buy yellowcake uranium. They say Bank Melli "facilitated numerous purchases of sensitive materials for Iran's nuclear and missile programmes" by opening letters of credit and hosting accounts.

The EU sanctions themselves contain loopholes, however.

Member states can still do business with the Iranian central bank if it relates to trade in non-nuclear and non-oil-related items, such as food or textiles, and if they make sure the money does not go to any regime officials on the EU's blacklist - not easy to prove given the opaque nature of the administration.

With several EU countries using Bank Tejarat to finance their diplomatic missions in Tehran, the bank can still handle their money "in so far as such payments are intended to be used for official purposes of the diplomatic or consular mission or international organisation."

Iran stops oil sale to France and UK

Iran stopped oil exports to the UK and France on Sunday in what is seen as a pre-emptive move ahead of the EU’s sanctions against the regime.

EU targets Iran's Internet snoops

EU countries have banned the sale of Internet-snooping technology to Iran and blacklisted the country's top cyber-censors.

Question marks over EU sanctions on Iran

Greece is temporarily blocking an EU gas embargo on Iran. But the big question is: are EU sanctions hurting or helping Iranian leader Ali Khamenei?

News in Brief

  1. EU flies rainbow flag on anti-homophobia day
  2. EU to freeze money and visas of foreign cyber-attackers
  3. EU reassures US on arms sales
  4. Use euros over dollars in energy contracts, France says
  5. UK cross-party Brexit talks collapse
  6. Climate activists occupy German-Russian gas pipeline
  7. Farage got €515,000 of private perks
  8. French EU commissioner urges Italy not to overspend

Opinion

Closer EU-Caribbean ties mean greater prosperity for all

The foreign affairs minister of Haiti calls for the replacement EU-Africa, Caribbean, Pacific 'Cotonou' agreement of 2000 to be updated to take account climate change, infrastructure and tourism to help the country transition away from aid-dependence.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us