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Germany probes Iran cash transfer request

July 10, 2018

German authorities have started investigating an Iranian government plan to fly out hundreds of millions of euros from Hamburg to Tehran. German lawmakers have accused the US of "improperly exerting pressure" on Berlin.

Euro banknotes behind a padlock
Image: picture alliance/dpa

The €300 million ($350 million) in question is being held by the European-Iranian Trade Bank, which is majority-owned by Iranian state-owned banks, but registered in Hamburg with the Bundesbank, Germany's central bank.

Iran wants to fly the money out as soon as possible to avoid the potential freezing of accounts as a result of reimposed US sanctions coming into effect in August, reported Berlin-based Bild newspaper on Tuesday.

If the operation goes ahead, it is likely to trigger a strong response from Washington. The US ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, told the newspaper that the government of US President Donald Trump was "very concerned" and called on Berlin "to intervene and stop the plan."

The money would be passed on to Iranians lacking a valid credit card to use while traveling abroad and in need of cash, Bild reported. Under impending US sanctions, Iranian banks will be excluded from the main credit card networks, including VISA and Mastercard, making it difficult for Iranians traveling outside the country.

EU unites against Trump

Tough decision ahead

A German Finance Ministry spokeswoman said it would be one of the largest cash transfers ever in German history.

The probe is looking at whether the arrangement would be an infringement of existing sanctions, and that in order for authorities to intervene, there would have to be concrete evidence of illegal activity, according to the German Foreign Ministry.

Read more: Germany reaffirms Iran nuclear but business worries abound

German lawmaker Bijan Djir-Sarai, an Iranian-German immigrant who serves as foreign policy speaker for business-friendly opposition Free Democrat Party, called on the government to do everything in its power to block the transfer if there is any evidence that the money could be used to finance terrorist activities.

'Improperly exerting pressure'

Omid Nouripour from the environmentalist Greens told DW that "the Iranians are trying to act before US sanctions come into effect — sanctions that we Europeans don't approve of as Iran has so far adhered to the nuclear deal."

Rolf Mützenich from the center-left SPD criticized the US ambassador for his early comments on the planned money transfer.

Read more: Iran nuclear deal: Germany's special role and plans

"Ambassador Grenell is improperly exerting pressure on the German government again in demanding immediate steps to be taken," he told DW. "The ambassador should finally realize that German authorities will act in line with the laws in place."

Germany is in a bind over the requested transfer because blocking the move could be politically precarious, as it could mean the collapse of the Iran nuclear deal, which the European Union still hopes to salvage.

hg/jd (Reuters, dpa)

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