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Germany blocks 300 million cash transfer to Iran

Germany's central bank is changing its terms and conditions to provide for more in-depth scrutiny of cash transfers amid international concerns that Iran seeks to repatriate cash held in a Hamburg-based bank. The move also comes at a time when the United States is pressing its allies to get tough on Tehran.

By Stefan J. Bos

Germany, the European Union's largest economy, faces a dilemma. Iran wants to bring home 300 million euros some $347 million it has in the European-Iranian Trade Bank ahead of new U.S. sanctions.

German authorities have been examining that request for weeks amid pressure from the United States. Washington says it fears that Iran wants to use the money for potential terrorist financing and money-laundering.

That's why Germany's Central Bank is believed to have announced new business conditions. Under the rules, which take effect August 25, the Bundesbank can block cash transfers in the absence of assurances from those involved in a transaction that it doesn't violate financial sanctions or policies to prevent money-laundering and the funding of terrorism.

The bank also mentions possible risks to what it calls "important relationships with third countries' central banks and financial institutions."

These changes don't specifically mention Iran, but commentators here are viewing it as a reaction to the transfer request.

US Ambassador pleased

In a statement, U.S. ambassador Richard Grenell said Saturday that the United States is "grateful" to its German partners at the chancellery and throughout the government for recognizing the need to act. He added that "Iran's malign activities throughout Europe are a growing concern" for the United States and its allies.

The German finance ministry said this week, after Germany's Bild daily reported on the new Bundesbank rules, that the Iranian request is still under consideration. That process involves Germany's financial market regulator and financial intelligence unit.

That move comes at an awkward moment for Germany. It wants to keep alive the 2015 deal with Iran which provides incentives in exchange for Tehran not pursuing a nuclear weapon. But it also wants to maintain good relations with the U.S. at a time of trade tensions.

But Iran says it wants to observe the nuclear deal only as long as the remaining signatories stick to the agreement, and it continues to enjoy economic incentives. U.S. President Donald Trump's administration began dismantling the sanctions relief that was granted to Iran under the deal in June, after he announced to the world the United States' unilateral withdrawal from the accord.

Listen to Stefan Bos' report
04 August 2018, 17:26