EU Court Melts Freeze on Iranian Entities' Assets
(CN) - Lacking evidence that certain assets supported Iran's nuclear ambitions, the Council of the European Union must unfreeze them, a court ruled Friday.
For years, European lawmakers have pressured Iran to end its nuclear program - which the country claims is being developed for peaceful purposes - by blacklisting banks and companies with ties to the Iranian government and the program.
But in 10 decisions Friday the Luxembourg-based General Court of the European Union ordered the EU Council to remove several entities from the blacklist, finding that lawmakers failed in various instances to prove the companies had actually provided financial backing for Iran's nuclear program.
"With regard to Post Bank Iran, Iran Insurance Company, Good Luck Shipping and Export Development Bank of Iran, the court finds that the council has not proved the facts of which it accuses those four companies and that the council could not, therefore, properly establish that they had provided support for nuclear proliferation," the court said in a statement. "Consequently, the acts of the council requiring the funds of those companies to be frozen have been annulled."
The court added that in the cases of individual Naser Bateni, Persia International Bank and Iranian Offshore Engineering and Construction, lawmakers relied on faulty evidence in making its decision to freeze assets.
For Bateni, the court found that his involvement with other blacklisted companies did not rise to the level necessary to include him in sanctions. Likewise, the council could not justify its actions by virtue of blacklisted Bank Mellat's 60 percent ownership of Persia International Bank's share capital, or Iranian Offshore's three export denials, the court found.
Meanwhile, the court removed Bank Refah Kargaran from the blacklist because lawmakers failed to give the bank reasons for the inclusion, and never even formally notified it of the evidence used against it as required by EU law.
The court left sanctions in place against Europaisch-Iranische Handelsbank, holding that the council fixed deficiencies in earlier blacklisting procedures and that the bank has continued dealing with other sanctioned Iranian entities.
In upholding the freeze on Bank Melli Iran's assets, the court found that the bank - long entangled in Iran's nuclear agenda - had "ensured that scholarships were paid on behalf of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran after restrictive measures had been adopted against AEOI by the UN Security Council which constituted support for nuclear proliferation."
European courts have consistently upheld decisions to freeze Bank Melli's assets as far back as 2008 because of the institution's involvement in Iran's nuclear program. Last year, Europe's highest court ordered the continued blacklisting of British subsidiary Melli Bank and found that "the reason for the freezing of the funds of Melli Bank - which is wholly owned by BMI, an entity identified as being engaged in nuclear proliferation - need not be the fact that Melli Bank itself engaged in such proliferation."
American officials blasted the EU court decision, while the Treasury Department announced its own plans Friday to sanction six individuals and four businesses for selling Iranian oil in violation of worldwide limitations.
"We are very disappointed by the court's decision today," a spokesman for the U.S. Treasury told The New York Times. "The evidence linking these banks to Iran's illicit nuclear activities is clear and strong, and no financial institution anywhere should allow these Iranian banks to transact with them."
The European court stayed enforcement of its decision, giving lawmakers 60 days to appeal to the Court of Justice. They may also correct the defective sanctions or adopt new ones, the court said.