Reuters is reporting that a European Union court has ruled against the
EU banking sanctions imposed on one of Iran's largest banks, which
extends to the payment sanctions imposed by Swift in March of last year. This
represents the second such judgment against the banking sanctions and brings
into question the legitimacy of using the Swift payments network as an economic weapon.
On Tuesday, the EU's General Court ruled that, in the case of Bank Saderat, there was insufficient evidence demonstrating
that the bank was involved in Iran's nuclear program. Last week, the
court issued a similar ruling in the case of Bank Mellat,
the largest private sector lender in Iran. Boycotted by the EU since July
2010 and blocked out of Swift since March 2012, the two banks had filed suit
with the European court to challenge those sanctions. EU governments now have
two months to appeal the recent decisions.
The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, or Swift, is a worldwide financial messaging network to
facilitate the interbank transfer of funds. Speaking after a news conference
in Dubai, Swift's chief executive Gottfried Leibbrandt
indicated that talks are continuing with European regulators
about the appropriateness of requiring Swift to impose sanctions on countries
such as Iran.
A global network for the transfer of funds loses some of its effectiveness
once its neutrality becomes tarnished, because any member of the network
could be similarly targeted without recourse.
Leibbrandt said, "There is a dialogue going on
around the trade-off between using us as a sanctions tool for other countries
and impeding our role as really serving as a global infrastructure
mechanism." He added that "there are lots of alternatives to
Swift" and international transactions can still be executed by sending
instructions via telephone or email, but such alternatives are "not as
secure as Swift and [lack] the convenience factor."
One such alternative is the gold bullion trade. Buyers of Iranian oil and gas
must deposit payment in a local bank account and it cannot be transferred
abroad. Iran sells natural gas to Turkey and receives payment in
Turkish lira, which are then used to purchase gold
bars in Turkey. Couriers using hand luggage carry the bullion to Dubai, where
it is sold for foreign currency or shipped to Iran.
Turkish Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan
said, "We will continue to make our gold exports
this year to whoever seeks them. We have no restrictions and are not bound by
restrictions imposed by others." Turkey was granted a six-month
U.S. waiver that exempted it from financial sanctions against Iran but
the waiver is due to expire in July. Also in December, the U.S. Senate passed
expanded sanctions on trade with Iran which included restricting trade in
Caglayan maintained that Turkey's state-owned Halkbank will continue its existing transactions with
Iran but some other banks had pulled back in response to U.S. pressure since
those private banks had activities in the U.S.
Also, Washington has warned Moscow on the implications for Russian banks and
has sanctioned the parent company of Russia's Mir Business Bank, state-owned
Bank Melli Iran, claiming that the Moscow-based
bank has become a conduit for Iranian's seeking to keep trade flowing.
"Only problem is Russians don't care what we think," according to Jim Rickards, author
of Currency Wars: The Making
of the Next Crisis.
In the meantime, over 30 cases are still pending at the EU General Court,
including cases filed by the Central Bank of Iran and the National
Iranian Oil Company.
By Jon Matonis
Friday, February 8, 2013