It was reported reliably from Washington that the Obama administration has decided to advance about $3.6 billion to Iran out of its frozen assets in foreign banks. The money would be released in installments over the six-month period covered by the proposed interim accord negotiated in Geneva between Iran and the six world powers.
Sanctions would also be relaxed on car parts and kits for reassembly, gold and precious metals and commercial aircraft parts.
The really tough ones restrictions on oil sales and foreign financial transactions would however remain in place.
DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence sources report that this was just the official version of the “modest” sanctions relief referred to by President Barack Obama. It did not take into account the administration’s decision to look the other way when unofficial business interests began stampeding to cash in on potential sanctions relief before any papers were signed in Geneva.
Saturday, Nov. 23, when that conference was still struggling for an accord on Iran’s nuclear program, two Iranian financial teams secretly opened negotiations in Beijing and New Delhi on procedures for releasing Iranian cash from long-frozen accounts.
According to Tehran’s official figures, $25 billion is locked in Chinese banks. DEBKA Weekly’s sources put the figure closer to $32 or even $35 billion. Another $12-15 billion gathers dust in frozen deposits in India and $5 billion in other countries. Tehran is therefore already rushing to redeem a hefty $49 billion to replenish its empty coffers and start halting its economic slide into bankruptcy.
The SWIFT ban stays in place
None of this applies to the ban on SWIFT facilities, which both the American and European negotiators have said would stay in place in the face of Iranian entreaties.
The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) provides a network for financial institutions worldwide to send and receive information about financial transactions, as well as selling software and services to financial institutions for use on the network as SWIFT codes.
The denial of SWIFT facilities to Iranian banks has set up a wall against their conduct of foreign currency transactions and ability to receive money from oil sales.
This painful penalty, which has seriously damaged Iran’s finances, will only be lifted, said the US and European negotiators, if and when the interim accord led to a final and comprehensive resolution of the Iranian nuclear issue. (Saturday p.m. the accord was still hanging in the balance.)
In the meantime, however, Washington tipped the wink to New Delhi and Beijing that the US would not demur if they began a phased release of frozen Iranian funds.
Rubles, renminbis and rupees replace dollar transactions
So how has Iran managed to execute money transfers and receipts without access to the SWIFT network?
DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence sources say this obstacle has been bypassed by the use of three mechanisms:
1. The Indian Interbank Mobile Payment System (IMPS), a service offered by the National Payments Corporation of India.
2. Various internet banking networks operating in Asia with links to banks and networks in the Persian Gulf, mainly Abu Dhabi and Oman. From the two emirates, the money is moved in cash overland by regular convoys of security trucks, unloaded onto speedboats secured by Iranian Revolutionary Guards marines, which drop the cargo off on the Iranian offshore island of Kish before it is transferred to Tehran.
3. Tehran has concluded under-the-counter deals with Russia, China and India, for the conduct of business in non-dollar currencies – rubles, renminbis and rupees.
In the drawers of Western intelligence agencies keeping track of these deals are piles of complicated math charts for computing the different exchange rates at different times for calculating payments.
A number of small banks in the Far East, Central Asia and southern Russia make a good living out of these complex transactions.