Iran General NewsUS: Italian bank may face charges over illegal Iranian...

US: Italian bank may face charges over illegal Iranian payments

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ImageAKI: New York prosecutors will present formal charges against one of Italy's largest banks, Intesa Sanpaolo, which is allegedly among at least 10 major Western banks to have illegally handled funds for Iran and concealed Iranian transactions routed through the United States.

Adnkronos International

ImageNew York, 2 March (AKI) – New York prosecutors will present formal charges against one of Italy's largest banks, Intesa Sanpaolo, which is allegedly among at least 10 major Western banks to have illegally handled funds for Iran and concealed Iranian transactions routed through the United States. The cash may have been used to buy illegal arms, investigators allege.

US investigators and their Italian counterparts from the northern city of Milan allege that Intesa Sanpaolo's branch in New York handled international credit transfers made via banks with headquarters in Iran, and also Syria and Libya, where the companies' names have been concealed.

The payments were made by banks and companies slapped with US sanctions, investigators allege. Intesa Sanpaolo says it is fully cooperating with the investigation.

New York district prosecutors allege that these operations violate both US federal and state laws and will press charges against Intesa Sanpaolo in May.

Milan police involved in the inquiry say they have established that embargoed Iranian, Syrian and Libyan banks asked Intesa Sanpaolo to conceal their names on international credit transfers, which were made in US dollars.

The New York branch of Britain's Lloyds TSB in mid-January paid a 350 million dollar fine in order to continue to operate in the US after investigators found it had handled illegal credit transfers from Iran and other 'rogue' states.

Lloyds TSB admitted to having handled 300 million dollars from Iran and 20 million dollars from Sudan that was paid "to American banks".

According to investigators, Tehran purchased via the British bank nuclear centrifuges for its controversial nuclear programme and 30,000 tonnes of tungsten, a chemical element that can be used to build high-tech missiles.

The investigation, which is being carried out jointly with the US justice department, is also probing other major European banks, including Barclays, Credit Suisse and Deutsche Bank, in western and eastern Europe and elsewhere.

If investigators prove that Intesa Sanpaolo is among the 10 or more banks that are illegally handling funds for Iran, the bank may be forced to close its New York branch. Other Italian banks are also being targeted by the probe, investigators say.

Another focus of the inquiry is the role of the Rome branch of Iran's Bank Sepah, which has been subjected to a US economic embargo since January 2007 and also subjected to United Nations sanctions and Italian sanctions.

Bank Sepah's executive director, Hassan Ali Qanbari, told semi-official Iranian news agency Fars in December that the bank's Rome branch had "started up again."

The bank has denied financing illicit weapons programmes.

Because of economic sanctions and the small size of Iranian banks, the banks have long relied on big European multinational banks in their international trade and credit transfers. Many of those transfers have flowed through New York City.

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