UANI Calls On Hong Kong Banks Suspected Of Aiding Iran Sanctions Evasion To Sever Ties With Regime

(New York, N.Y.) — United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) is seeking clarification from financial institutions around the world who appear to be complicit in a multi-billion dollar Iranian sanctions evasion scheme first detailed by the Wall Street Journal in March 2022. Recently published evidence suggests that shell companies controlled by Iran’s Shahr Bank, which was sanction-designated by the U.S. Department of Treasury in 2020, maintain accounts with major financial institutions in Hong Kong including HSBC, Standard Chartered, China Merchants Bank Wing Lung Bank (Wing Lung), Bank of East Asia Limited (BEA), and Dah Sing Bank Limited (Dah Sing).  

UANI has contacted each of the above-named banks in Hong Kong. Previously, UANI has made formal inquiries with Turkish, Chinese, and Singaporean banks similarly suspected of participating in Iran’s sanctions evasion scheme. 

Today, the Wall Street Journal reported that HSBC maintained an account in Hong Kong for a shell company, Scofield HK Ltd., which acted as a proxy for Iranian companies including the Persian Gulf Petrochemical Industry Commercial Company. In the same report, the newspaper accused a Hong Kong branch of Standard Chartered of holding “U.S. dollar and euro denominated accounts for two Hong Kong companies that handled trade for the National Iranian Tanker Co. (NITC).” Both the Persian Gulf Petrochemical Industry Commercial Company and the NITC are under U.S. sanctions.  

HSBC and Standard Chartered have both previously been found to have violated U.S. sanctions against Iran. In 2012, HSBC agreed with the U.S. Department of Justice that it would forfeit more than $1.25 billion and pay $665 million in civil penalties for its failure to appropriately block or reject a book-entry transfer of 32,000 ounces of gold bullion for the ultimate benefit of a bank-owned or controlled by the Government of Iran. In 2019, Standard Chartered admitted that from 2007 until 2011 it had participated in a criminal conspiracy that resulted in $240 million being processed for the Iranian regime through U.S. financial institutions. The bank “agreed to forfeiture of $240 million, a fine of $480 million” and other penalties with the U.S. Department of Justice.  

These admissions preceded important and definitive assurances communicated in writing to UANI. In 2016, HSBC – with nearly $3 trillion in assets – stated that the bank “has no intention of doing new business involving Iran.” In 2018, Standard Chartered confirmed by letter to UANI that, “Standard Chartered Bank (the Bank) has no presence or any operations in Iran. In addition, the Bank is not active in Iran and has no Iranian business.” As of 2021, Standard Chartered reported $827 billion in assets worldwide.

“Both Standard Chartered and HSBC have major U.S. business operations. They are highly sophisticated with vast resources. They know or should know if they are being used by a sanctions-designated bank to hold accounts for shell companies,” stated UANI CEO Ambassador Mark D. Wallace. “This is a serious issue that requires the banks’ immediate attention. UANI calls on each of them to launch an investigation, one that is fully transparent to the public, and pending the results, if necessary, sever all ties with the Iranian regime without hesitation.”  

Today is the first time that UANI has contacted Wing Lung, BEA, and Dah Sing. 

To read UANI’s resource Business Risk Matrix, please click here.