Swedish bank probed over Muslim names ban

Mohammed and Ahmad can not wire money


Sweden's anti-discrimination agency said Tuesday it was investigating a Swedish bank that blocks customers with certain foreign names from using routine banking services.

Ahmad Waizy reported his bank, Skandiabanken, to the Ombudsman against Ethnic Discrimination (DO) in late July, accusing it of racial discrimination, according to a copy of his complaint obtained by AFP.

He tried to pay a bill and transfer money to Germany online but was unable to complete the transaction.

Skandiabanken told him "it was because of my first name (Ahmad), and they said there were other names also on the blacklist," he said.

At the bank's suggestion, he removed his first name and the transaction went through.

DO, a government agency that identifies ethnic and religious discrimination, said it was investigating the complaint and had given the bank until September 3 to respond to a series of questions.

Skandiabanken spokeswoman Lena Hoek told Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet the bank merely checked names against the European Union's list of suspected terrorists drawn up after the September 11 attacks in the United States.

Among the names on the list were names such as Ahmad, Mohammed, and Hussein, as well as Jose Maria and James, the paper pointed out.

"Like all other banks we have to follow the list. We are required to by law," Hoek said, saying Skandiabanken welcomed a probe into its practices in order to clarify procedures.

"I've lived in Sweden half my life, I work as an electrician and I live a normal Swedish life. I've never felt discriminated against before but this feels really strange," Waizy told Svenska Dagbladet.

DO already has a similar lawsuit underway against Western Union, after three men with Arabic names tried to wire money abroad but were initially blocked because their names resembled those on international blacklists.

In that case, DO demanded that Western Union pay 80,000 kronor (12,500 dollars, 8,533 euros) in damages to each of the three men. According to Svenska Dagbladet, there are some 4,100 people in Sweden named Ahmad.