Return of the Sanctions: Banks Should Steer Clear of the Central Bank of Iran

    Annie Fixler, Behnam Ben Taleblu

    Security, Middle East

    A customer buys Iranian gold coins at a currency exchange office in Tehran's business district October 24, 2011. Iranian media reported last week that monetary authorities had reversed a six-month-old decision to cut interest on bank deposits, aiming to mop up excess cash in the economy and halt a dangerous rise of inflation. The news made sense to economists, who said April's interest rate cut had pushed Iranians to withdraw their savings and rush to buy dollars and gold as a safeguard against inflation --

    Iran’s penchant for using its formal banking sector to fund its vast array of destabilizing regional activities is what makes engaging in any commerce with the Islamic Republic economically dubious.

    The U.S. Treasury Department has set its crosshairs on two more Iranian illicit finance schemes. Late last week, Washington designated a network spanning Iran and the United Arab Emirates that had “procured and transferred millions in U.S. dollar-denominated bulk cash” for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force (IRGC-QF), according to the Treasury Department’s press statement. On Tuesday,the department revealed another network funneling money through an Iraq-based bank to the IRGC-QF and the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah. The lynchpin of both schemes was the Central Bank of Iran (CBI)—Tehran’s primary hub for illicit finance.

    The announcements came in the wake of President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The Treasury Department’s actions, however, were tied to existing counterterrorism sanctions, not the nuclear sanctions affected by the agreement. The first set of sanctions were the result of coordinated action with authorities in the UAE and both actions were likely culminations of weeks if not months of work by Washington’s financial warriors to identify nodes of Iran’s illicit networks.

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