Iranians in Malaysia say banks close their accounts as US sanctions bite

It is unclear if the closures of Iranian bank accounts in Malaysia is related to the tracking of Iranian fuel oil offshore Malaysia this year. (File/AFP)
Updated 30 October 2019

Iranians in Malaysia say banks close their accounts as US sanctions bite

  • An Iranian university lecturer was told his 14-year-old account would be closed
  • Malaysia kept good diplomatic relations with Iran after US sanctions

KUALA LUMPUR: Banks in Malaysia are closing the accounts of Iranian individuals and companies, nearly a dozen affected people told Reuters, in a sign that US sanctions are having a far-reaching impact on citizens of the Islamic republic.
Although Malaysian banks seemed to be more cautious in dealing with Iranians than those elsewhere, some Iranians and one embassy official said, there were “mass closures” in the Southeast Asian country in recent months.
The banks were being “more Catholic than the Pope,” said university lecturer Behrang Samadi, who is among an estimated 10,000 Iranians living in Malaysia and learnt in August that his bank, CIMB, would close his 14-year-old account.
“In Western countries, there is no problem opening bank accounts,” he added. “They are only sensitive about money transfers, especially in big amounts.”
Samadi said he withdrew his money soon after the bank warned him of the closure within a month’s time, though he was still able to access his account online on Sunday.
Despite Washington’s sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program imposed late last year, Malaysia has kept up good diplomatic ties with Tehran, and last week, their leaders discussed ways to further strengthen ties.
It was not clear if the account closures were linked to the tracking of a tanker of Iranian fuel oil offshore Malaysia this year, a development that annoyed the United States.
The US State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for Malaysia’s prime minister did not respond to Reuters’ questions.
Many Iranians said they knew of dozens of compatriots who had received notices from CIMB and RHB Bank.
“We regret to inform (you) that we are unable to continue the banking relationship,” CIMB said in identical notices reviewed by Reuters.
The banks did not state a reason, but some individuals said bank officials attributed the move to tighter scrutiny after the sanctions.
CIMB and RHB declined to comment. Malaysia’s central bank directed queries to the Association of Banks in Malaysia, which declined to comment.
Such matters depended on individual banks’ own risk appetite and assessment, the central bank said this month in an email response to one Iranian’s complaint that was viewed by Reuters.
But a July notification on the central bank’s website refers to a statement by the Financial Action Task Force urging “enhanced due diligence” on Iranians by members of the global money laundering watchdog.
Iran’s embassy in Kuala Lumpur said it was working to resolve the issue.
“We hope that by goodwill and cooperation of the Malaysian officials, the negotiations will yield a positive result,” it told Reuters in an email last week, adding that Iranian companies had also been affected.
For now, Iranians in the Malaysian capital have been left wondering how to pay school fees or hospital bills.
“Without a bank account we need to use the ancient techniques, keeping money under the pillow or in teapots,” said one of them, who sought anonymity. “It’s not fair.”


Oil falls below $57 on virus impact and OPEC+ delay

Updated 19 February 2020

Oil falls below $57 on virus impact and OPEC+ delay

  • Contagion ‘is spooking market players,’ analysts say after Asian shares fall and Apple issues warning

LONDON: Oil fell below $57 a barrel on Tuesday, pressured by concerns over the impact on crude demand from the coronavirus outbreak in China and a lack of further action by OPEC and its allies to support the market.

Forecasters including the International Energy Agency (IEA) have cut 2020 oil demand estimates because of the virus. Though new cases in mainland China have dipped, global experts say it is too early to judge if the outbreak is being contained.

Brent crude was down 82 cents at $56.85 a barrel in mid-afternoon trade after rallying in the previous five sessions. US West Texas Intermediate crude fell 70 cents to $51.35.

“Risk aversion has returned to the markets,” said Commerzbank analyst Carsten Fritsch.

“OPEC+ has shown no sign yet of reacting to the virus-related slump in demand by making additional production cuts.”

The virus is having a wider impact on companies and financial markets. Asian shares fell and Wall Street was poised to retreat on Tuesday after Apple said it would miss quarterly revenue guidance owing to weakened demand in China.

“This has spooked market players and triggered a sharp pullback in risk assets,” said Tamas Varga of oil broker PVM.

The IEA last week said that first-quarter oil demand is likely to fall by 435,000 barrels per day (bpd) from the same period last year in the first quarterly decline since the financial crisis in 2009.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies, including Russia, have been considering further production cuts to tighten supply and support prices.

The group, known as OPEC+, has a pact to cut oil output by 1.7 million bpd until the end of March.

The next OPEC+ meeting next month is set to consider an advisory panel’s recommendation to cut supply by a further 600,000 bpd. Talks on holding an earlier meeting in February appear to have made no progress, OPEC sources said.

As well as OPEC+ voluntary curbs, support for prices has come from involuntary losses in Libya, where output has collapsed since Jan. 18 because of a blockade of ports and oilfields.