Last Updated: Sun Jan 29, 2012 19:05 pm (KSA) 16:05 pm (GMT)

Despite sanctions, Iran has billions stashed away in European banks: EU advisor

Iran says it has since 2008 been withdrawing all of its assets from European banks. (Reuters)
Iran says it has since 2008 been withdrawing all of its assets from European banks. (Reuters)

Earlier this week, an EU economic advisor said the Islamic republic still has several billions in euros stashed away in European banks despite of a dispute between Western powers over Iran’s nuclear program.

Mehrdad Emadi was responding to comments published in Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency quoting central bank officials stating that Iran had withdrawn all of its money from European banks after the EU adopted a new round of sanctions targeting the country’s oil industry.

“Despite that I cannot name the exact sum right now, I can say that Iran still has more than a couple of billion euros in European banks,” Emadi told Trend website.

According to Emadi, Iran has funds deposited in accounts in Germany, Italy, Malta, Spain, Greece and Switzerland. Officials in Switzerland, according to Emadi, said they would go along with any sanctions the EU adopts toward the regime in Tehran, despite not being a member of the union.

Along with the oil embargo, the EU also froze the assets of the Iranian central Bank held in in euros. The Iranian banking sector was slapped with strict restrictions dictating that any transaction about 40,000 euros ($51,000) would have to be authorized by EU governments before being processed.

Iran says it has since 2008 been withdrawing all of its assets from European banks and either converting them to gold or transferring them to Asian banks.

China, India, Japan, and South Korea, combined purchase about 62 percent of Iran’s oil exports.

But according to whistleblowing website WikiLeaks, Iran has attempted several times to invest billions of dollars in the Maltese banking system.

A cable from early 2009 revealed that a senior Maltese finance ministry official informed the American embassy of an Iranian approach to Malta’s ambassador in France to express interest in “investing several billions of euros” in Malta.

In late November 2011, in line with the United States and Canada, Britain ordered all financial institutions to stop doing business with their Iranian counterparts, including the Iranian central bank.

Until financial sanctions against Iran came into force, London was seen as a convenient transfer point for Iranian money seeking to enter the U.S., proving to be a profitable business for several major British banks.
However, in the last three years, they have had to pay hefty fines to American authorities as the U.S. government focused on cutting off Tehran’s monetary flows.

Other banks in Europe have taken similar steps to comply.
A Deutsche Bank spokesman said the bank decided in 2007 to wind down its Iranian ties. “The bank does have some ongoing contracts with European and Asian firms that do business in Iran that it is required to uphold,” said the spokesman, Ronald Weichert, to Reuters.

Switzerland's Banque de Commerce et de Placements closed its Iranian accounts in July 2010, days after the U.S. passed an act targeting foreign banks dealing with a slew of banned Iranian entities.

The latest round of Western sanctions was in response a report by the U.N. nuclear watchdog report in November that made detailed claims about Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon design.

Iran maintains its nuclear program is peaceful and says it needs nuclear technology to generate power.

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