Wednesday

20th Jun 2018

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.

... our 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?

Opinion

Europe could lose out in North Korean bonanza

South Korean businesses including Hyundai and Samsung are already scoping investment opportunities. Will North Korea become a 'new Vietnam' opportunity - or more like Myanmar, where slow Brussels policy-making meant EU exporters lost out.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  2. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMHRMI Launches Lawsuits Against Individuals and Countries Involved in Changing Macedonia's Name
  3. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  4. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  6. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  8. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  10. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  11. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network

Latest News

  1. Hungary to push ahead with 'Stop Soros' law on NGOs
  2. Swedish party puts EU referendums back in fashion
  3. EU summit set to outsource asylum
  4. Dutch request to clarify Brexit Britons' rights annulled
  5. EU states set to back some asylum reform laws
  6. The Baltic 'Big Sea' strategy
  7. Orban to EPP: turn 'Christian democratic' or face challenge
  8. Is EU retail sector equipped for 21st century?

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us