Germans Probe Iran’s Plan to Move $350 Million in Cash Before US Sanctions Hit

By James Carstensen | July 12, 2018 | 1:36 AM EDT

The Tehran premises of the Iranian-owned, Hamburg-based European-Iranian Commercial Bank. (Photo: Mehr news agency)

Berlin ( – A plan by Iran to transfer around 300 million euros ($350 million) in cash out of Germany prompted authorities here to investigate whether the move could be linked to terror activities, amid sensitive negotiations aimed at salvaging the Iran nuclear deal.

Iran wants to shift reserves from the European-Iranian Commercial Bank in Hamburg to Tehran, ahead of the looming reimposition of U.S. sanctions following President Trump’s withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear agreement.

The German Foreign Ministry confirmed this week that financial regulators are investigating the Iranian plan for “risks associated with money laundering and terrorist financing.”

“Should any concrete suspicions arise during an audit, then the result of an audit is that this cannot be done,” the ministry said of the transfer.

Iran claims the funds are to provide travelers who do not have access to credit cards with cash. U.S. sanctions due to resume later this year would exclude Iranian banks from major credit card networks such as VISA and MasterCard.

The move comes at a delicate time, as the five countries still committed to the JCPOA with Iran – Germany, France, Britain, China and Russia seeks ways to preserve the deal following Trump’s pullout.

U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell told Bild that the U.S. was “very concerned” about Iran’s plans to move the cash.

“We encourage the German government at the highest level to intervene and stop this project,” he said.

Grenell, who during his short time in place has already been accused of interfering in German affairs, drew fresh criticism with the latest comments.

“Ambassador Grenell is improperly exerting pressure on the German government again in demanding immediate steps to be taken,” said Rolf Mützenich, a lawmaker with the center-left Social Democrats (SPD). “The ambassador should finally realize that German authorities will act in line with the laws in place.”

Others see U.S. concern as misguided. “Whatever the government pretext for flying in cash, Iran does indeed have many non-politically active citizens who have genuine cash needs,” said Robin Lee Allen, a partner at the private equity firm Esperance.

Greens lawmaker Omid Nouripour, a member of the parliamentary foreign affairs committee, told German media that the Iranians are merely trying to act before U.S. sanctions take effect – “sanctions that we Europeans don't approve of, as Iran has so far adhered to the nuclear deal.”

Still, the significant sum involved has raised concerns, given Iran’s involvement in the civil wars in Yemen and Syria, and a long history of funding terrorist militias such as Hezbollah.

Bijan Djir-Sarai, an Iranian-German immigrant and foreign policy spokesman for the business-friendly Free Democrat Party (FDP) echoed Grenell’s call for the government to block the transfer, if it finds any evidence the money could be used to finance terrorist activities.

Joshua Stowell , editor of Global Security Review, said that although the Iranian government did indeed have a desperate need to offset dwindling foreign reserves, under domestic pressure, in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA., its international activities remain questionable.

While the Iranian people have faced stagnating or declining living standards in recent years, “at the same time its government funds multi-billion dollar proxy wars in Syria and Yemen.”

Shahin Gobadi , a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the exiled National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) harshly criticized Iran’s plan, saying the regime would use all the resources at its disposal for repression at home and terrorism abroad.

“Any notion that these funds or any similar funds will be used for the welfare of the Iranian people is a total delusion,” he said. “The foiled terror plot in Paris on June 30 and the direct role of an Iranian diplomat clearly illustrates that even diplomatic missions are used for terror acts.”

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