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30th Jul 2016

Sweden protests innocence on EU-Iran sanctions

  • Bildt (l) shares a joke with the German foreign minister in Luxembourg on Monday (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Sweden has denied diluting EU sanctions on Iran. But fellow EU diplomats say it did.

Walking into an EU meeting in Luxembourg on Monday (15 October), Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt attacked Israeli media reports that he lobbied to change the EU measures in order to protect Swedish phone firm Ericsson.

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"Something fed by the Irsaeli foreign ministry you mean? ... It is anonymous slander. They [the news reports] refer amusingly to anonymous Israeli officials. I don't think anonymous slander is the way that we should conduct relations between responsible countries," he told press.

His ministry in Stockholm the same day summoned the Israeli ambassador to Sweden to make an official complaint.

The EU unveiled its latest sanctions on Monday afternoon.

They include a ban on imports of Iranian gas and transactions between EU and Iranian banks unless pre-approved by national authorities.

They also forbid EU countries from issuing flags for Iranian cargo ships and from doing business with 34 entities which give "substantial financial support to the Iranian government."

EU diplomatic contacts told EUobserver the original proposals also contained a ban on sales of telecommunications equipment, but Sweden lobbied to drop it on "humanitarian" grounds.

"There's an Iranian minority living in Sweden and [Sweden] said it is important than they can keep in touch with their families back home ... It's normal that EU countries defend the interests of their national companies. Ericsson was never mentioned. The official reason for inclusion or non-inclusion of specific goods on a list is always 'not to hurt ordinary people'," one EU source said.

"There was a Swedish objection to this [the telecommunications ban]," another EU contact noted.

For its part, Ericsson confirmed it has contracts to ship and install mobile phone masts for three Iranian firms: MCCI, MTN IranCell and TCI.

"There are 70 million Iranians who need to talk to each other and to make phonecalls to the outside world and that is good for openness and democracy," a company spokesman, Fredrik Hallstan, told this website.

MCCI, MTN IranCell and TCI are all majority-owned by the Iranian state.

When asked if the Ericsson equipment could be used to snoop on people, Hallstan answered: "We don't sell surveillance equipment [to Iran]. We sell standard equipment for mobile telephony. If I call you, then the radio station knows where you are, so Yes, you can use it to locate people. But there is equipment out there which is much better for that kind of thing and we are not selling it."

In terms of EU efforts to stop "substantial financial support to the Iranian government," one Iranian opposition group says new structures designed to skirt EU and US sanctions are springing up like mushrooms after the rain.

The People's Mojahedin Oraganisation of Iran in a report drafted for EUobserver listed five institutions.

It said the Iranian President's Center for Innovation and Technology Co-operation, the foreign ministry's Department of Technical Co-operation, the defence ministry's Oil Pension Fund Investment Company, Bank Melat and Bank Saman are all involved.

It noted that methods include sending up to $100,000 in diplomatic pouches to Austria, Germany and Italy in order to bribe people.

Methods also include using Chinese, Russian and Turkish-owned front companies in Asia, Europe and the Middle East to transfer payments of up to $5 million at a time on behalf of Iranian entities which cannot do it directly because of the international crackdown.

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