Exclusive: Iran seeks to resolve HSBC freeze on some trade financing - sources

Tue Jun 24, 2014 5:27am EDT
 
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By Jonathan Saul and Parisa Hafezi

LONDON/ANKARA (Reuters) - Iran is lobbying to get HSBC (HSBA.L: Quote) to process humanitarian trade transactions that Europe's biggest bank has frozen because of concerns about potential breaches of international sanctions, sources familiar with the trades told Reuters.

Banks such as HSBC are responding to tougher scrutiny over financial dealings with some countries including Iran, even as the Islamic Republic has won relief from some sanctions since its interim deal with world powers last November under which it has scaled back some aspects of its disputed nuclear program.

French bank BNP Paribas (BNPP.PA: Quote) is facing a fine of as much as $9 billion and other penalties over allegations of U.S. sanctions breaches involving Iran and other states between 2002 and 2009.

Iran was never barred from buying food or other humanitarian goods under sanctions first imposed in 2006 over its nuclear activity. But measures by the European Union and the United States have made trade generally more difficult over the past two years, hindering payments and shipping.

"HSBC, like other banks, is increasingly worried about falling foul of any sanctions oversights. It is just not worth the risks, especially in this climate," a banking source, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue, said.

European and U.S. trade sources, who also declined to be named due to sensitivities over business with Iran, said HSBC had in recent weeks frozen some transactions for approved goods.

"My direct experience is that they have blocked payments going into and out of Iran," a European trade source said.

HSBC said it continued to consider humanitarian payments involving sanctioned countries "on a case-by-case basis" to ensure they are in accordance with applicable regulatory requirements, and otherwise consistent with the bank's policy.   Continued...

 
The signage of the HSBC bank is seen at a branch at Hayes in west London February 24, 2014. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor