Did HSBC mislead the U.S. about doing business in Iran?
Last month, I reported that HSBC bank was continuing to do business in Iran. In addition, after I had contacted its spokesman for comment, the bank decided to pull an ad touting the prevalence of women filmmakers under that despotic regime.
This item was on the State Department schedule this week:
Assistant Secretary For Economic, Energy And Business Affairs Jose Fernandez: 12:30 p.m. Assistant Secretary Fernandez meets with Niall Booker of HSBC North America, at the Department of State
What's on the agenda? Well, last month, State Department Under Secretary William Burns testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee that "Major banks like HSBC and Deutsche Bank have [emphasis added] pulled out." Burns did not say that HSBC was in the process of getting out. Did he misspeak, or has the bank misinformed the State Department?
HSBC spokesman Robert Sherman would only say this: "HSBC's policy regarding remains the same. We continue to follow the letter and spirit of laws, regulations and sanctions related to Iran in all jurisdictions. No new deals and new activity not permitted under existing sanctions."
But did the bank tell the State Department it had wrapped up its activities? Again, bank officials would not say. But a senior administration official only authorized to speak on background told me that "we were previously told by HSBC that they were out entirely, but recent statements suggest they are still in the process of unwinding their business in Iran. We are seeking to clarify exactly where things stand."
Sanctions enforcement, it seems, is no easy matter. As diligent as Treasury and State Department officials have been, it is a painstaking process to root out and police the myriad transactions that continue to keep business running in the Islamic revolutionary state. It is precisely this difficulty -- and the Iranian regime's determination to plow ahead with its nuclear program despite sanctions -- that has convinced skeptics of sanctions that stronger measures are needed to disrupt the Iranians' nuclear plans.
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