Exclusive: Turkey to Iran gold trade wiped out by new U.S. sanction

Fri Feb 15, 2013 9:26am EST
 

By Asli Kandemir

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Tighter U.S. sanctions are killing off Turkey's gold-for-gas trade with Iran and have stopped state-owned lender Halkbank from processing other nations' energy payments to the OPEC oil producer, bankers said on Friday.

U.S. officials have sought to prevent Turkish gold exports, which indirectly pay Iran for its natural gas, from providing a financial lifeline to Tehran, largely frozen out of the global banking system by Western sanctions over its nuclear program.

Turkey, Iran's biggest natural gas customer, has been paying Iran for its imports with Turkish lira, because sanctions prevent it from paying in dollars or euros.

Iranians then use those lira, held in Halkbank accounts, to buy gold in Turkey, and couriers carry bullion worth millions of dollars in hand luggage to Dubai, where it can be sold for foreign currency or shipped to Iran.

Halkbank had also been processing a portion of India's payments for Iranian oil.

A provision of U.S. sanctions, made law last summer and implemented from February 6, effectively tightens control on sales of precious metals to Iran and prevents Halkbank from processing oil payments by other countries back to Tehran, bankers said.

"Halkbank can only accept payments for Turkish oil and gas purchases and Iran is only allowed to buy food, medicine and industrial products with that money," one senior Turkish banker told Reuters.

"The gas for gold trade is very difficult after the second round of sanctions. Iranians cannot just withdraw the cash and buy whatever they want. They have to prove what they are buying ... so gold exports will definitely fall," he said.   Continued...

 
Turkey's Halkbank headquarters are seen in Ankara November 19, 2012. REUTERS/Umit Bektas