h1

Feckless asset freezes?

April 6, 2010

The Wall Street Journal ran an excellent article by Steve Stecklow yesterday on the teeny tiny amount of assets frozen under U.S. and international sanctions regimes against Iran.  The experts are saying that it’s not about the dollars, but the pressure—let’s hope they’re right.

In its latest proposed set of tougher United Nations sanctions on Iran, the U.S. is again relying on asset freezes as one tool to pressure the country not to build nuclear weapons.

But a close look at how much Iranian money has been frozen to date in the U.S. under existing sanctions shows that the total amount is surprisingly small, less than $43 million, or roughly a quarter of what Iran earns in oil revenue in a single day.

Other countries also haven’t frozen very much, despite freezes implemented by the European Union and the U.N., interviews show. Switzerland, for example, has frozen only about $1.4 million in Iranian assets—a tiny fraction of the $712 million Swiss companies exported to Iran last year.

“It’s peanuts,” says Jeremy P. Carver, a British attorney who has advised governments on implementing sanctions. “It’s not going to really change a thing.”

U.S. officials do not dispute that current amounts of frozen Iranian assets seem small. In some cases, Iran has shifted the money outside the U.S. or EU to avoid sanctions. The officials emphasize that their strategy is not to seize many assets, but to pressure Iran to change its ways by making it extremely difficult for it to do business.

“The strategy is not to freeze as many assets as we can,” says Stuart Levey, the Treasury Department official who has headed the U.S. sanctions initiative during both the Obama and Bush administrations. “That alone, without the full range of measures we can bring to bear, would be a failing strategy.”

The proposed new asset freezes come as an Iranian firm recently acquired hardware used to enrich uranium, circumventing current sanctions designed to prevent such purchases, The Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend. The International Atomic Energy Agency is investigating how the Iranian firm procured valves and vacuum gauges used in uranium enrichment that were made by a French company owned by Tyco International Ltd. until December. The French and U.S. companies have said they knew nothing about it.

Iran insists it is trying to develop civilian atomic power—not weapons. A spokesman for Iran’s U.N. mission in New York did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

Asset freezes remain part of the U.S. and its allies’ arsenal in trying to pressure Iran not to develop atomic weapons…

The full WSJ article is here.  My closing comment is that if I were one of the bankers required to report information on my customers all the time to the Treasury, I would be disappointed to hear that the heavy federal regulations on my industry hadn’t amounted to much.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: