Iranian banks fight sanctions in European court

(By Deutsche Welle) The West has sought to impose a watertight sanctions regime against Iran over its nuclear program. But a European court has ruled against targeted sanctions in several cases, ordering some banks removed from blacklists.

Following Washington’s lead, the European Union has sought to impose tough sanctions against Iran over the years, targeting 180 Iranian entities with asset freezes and travel bans. But Iranian financial institutions are increasingly fighting back, filing – and winning – lawsuits in European court to be removed from blacklists.

The British Supreme Court overturned sanctions in June against Bank Mellat, Iran’s largest private bank. In 2009, the UK Treasury used counterterrorism laws to ban Mellat from the British financial system, alleging that the bank had helped finance Iran’s nuclear program.

But Supreme Court Judge Jonathan Sumption ruled that the British sanctions were “arbitrary,” “irrational,” and “disproportionate.” Bank Mellat could seek damages to the tune of 500 million pounds (574 million euros, $761 million), according to a bank spokesman quoted by Reuters news agency.

The ruling by Britain’s top court came after two similar decisions by the European General Court, the second highest judicial body in the EU. In January, the General Court had moved to overturn EU sanctions against Bank Mellat. A week later, the court ruled against sanctions imposed on Saderat Bank. Currently, both Mellat and Saderat remain blacklisted pending appeal by Brussels.

“The main reason that is given [for sanctions] is that they [banks] support nuclear proliferation,” Nigel Kushner, who represents Iranian clients in sanctions cases, told DW. “It’s not enough to say that we think they support proliferation, the EU must check the relevance and validity of that evidence.”

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