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Germany: EU Iran Sanctions Don’t Prohibit Hamburg Bank


21st October 2014 - Jerusalem Post

BERLIN – The German government last week denied that German authorities plan to pull the plug on the Hamburg-based Iranian EIH bank (Europaeisch- Iranische Handelsbank).

Speaking during an Israel Project conference call earlier last week, Ambassador to Berlin Yoram Ben-Ze'ev had said, "There are some legal issues that need to be resolved, allowing the bank to be closed shortly."

When asked about the ambassador's statements and if the German government indeed plans to shut down EIH's operation, a spokeswoman for Chancellor Angela Merkel's administration wrote in an e-mail to The Jerusalem Post: "EIH is under particularly strict regulatory control, which cannot be compared to any other German financial institution."

Merkel's spokeswoman added that "the EU sanctions against Iran do not at this time list EIH" as a prohibited Iranian entity.

A spokesman for the Israeli Embassy told the Post on Wednesday that there are "ongoing discussions" with "high-level German officials" about EIH's closure.

The American Treasury Department has banned EIH from operating in the US, saying the bank finances companies that help Iran build weapons of mass destruction.

In response to a query about US President Barack Obama's telephone call to Merkel this summer in which the president urged the chancellor to sever ties with EIH, a US Embassy spokesman in Berlin wrote: "Your question would require me to comment on alleged confidential communications between the US and German governments, something I am not in a position to do. The United States closely consulted the German government before designating EIH bank under US Executive Order 13382."

Executive Order 13382, signed by president George W. Bush on June 29, 2005, aims to freeze the assets of proliferators of weapons of mass destruction and their supporters, and isolate them financially.

Jeanette Schwamberger, a spokeswoman for the German Finance Ministry, wrote the Post that "There is no German sanctions list; rather the European Council must decide within the framework of the EU sanction's mechanisms. We are not aware of any such decision of the European Council."

Germany's reluctance to close down what many experts consider to be Iran's most important nuclear proliferation financial institution in Europe has raised question marks over Merkel's declarations to the Knesset and the US Congress about stopping the Islamic Republic's nuclear weapons program. Those critics say the Merkel administration and her pro-business Free Democratic Party coalition partners oppose shutting down EIH because the bank conducts financial transactions for mid-level German businesses active in Iran.

Meanwhile, Elke Hoff, a lawmaker from the Free Democratic Party and its defense policy spokeswoman, is slated to arrive in Iran on Saturday to meet with "senior Iranian officials," the English-language Tehran Times reports.

Hoff, a proponent of German- Iranian trade, is a member of the German-Iranian parliamentary group and serves on the board of the German Near and Middle East Association, a pro-Iranian business trade organization. The association's honorary chairman is former chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who last year met with President Mahmoud Ahamdinejad in Teheran to promote German-Iranian trade.

Hoff declined to answer telephone and written inquiries from the Post about the purpose of her visit, and whether it contradicts US efforts to isolate Iran.

Dr. Kazem Moussavi, a German- Iranian activist with the Stop the Bomb organization, criticized Hoff for planned meetings "with high-level Iranian criminals" representing the government in Teheran.

Moussavi said Hoff's visit is "encouraging the regime to continue with human rights violations in Iran" and with its atomic and rocket programs, as well as with Iran's "annihilation policies" toward Israel.

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