AFP: Iran's Bank Melli, the newest target for European sanctions against Tehran over its nuclear defiance, is the oldest bank in the country and has already been hit by punitive measures from the West.
TEHRAN (AFP) — Iran's Bank Melli, the newest target for European sanctions against Tehran over its nuclear defiance, is the oldest bank in the country and has already been hit by punitive measures from the West.
In October 2007, the United States included Bank Melli in a broad range of sanctions measures against Iranian institutions on the grounds that it provided banking services to the nuclear drive and the elite Revolutionary Guards.
Those sanctions forbid any financial transactions between a US citizen or private organisation. All assets under US jurisdiction of those targeted were immediately frozen.
The latest UN Security Council sanctions passed against Iran in March also urged "vigilance" in dealing with banks inside the Islamic republic, including Bank Melli, which is believed to be the biggest in Iran.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced the latest measures after talks with US President George W. Bush in London on Monday.
"Today Britain will urge Europe, and Europe will agree to take further sanctions against Iran," Brown said at a joint press conference. "We will take action today that will freeze the overseas assets of the biggest bank in Iran, the Melli Bank."
Bank Melli Iran (Iran National Bank) was founded on September 11, 1928 during the rule of shah Reza Pahlavi who wanted to modernise Iran's economy to bring it in line with European countries.
Its founding was helped by aide from Reza Pahlavi's close ally Germany and German officials ran the bank during its early years.
The bank currently employs more than 45,000 men and women, and it has more than 3,100 branches in Iran and 16 branches outside the Islamic republic.
It is 100 percent state owned and although Iran is intending to partly privatise other state banks as part of a broad privatisation drive, Bank Melli is not expected to be affected.
In 2005-2006 the bank reported it had assets of more than 350 trillion rials (32 billion dollars). More up-to-date figures are not available.
Recent press reports have said that Iran has moved its asset from the European banks to other institutions, fearing that further sanctions would affect its access to investments.
But this has been denied by the bank's London branch which said: "It should be noted that BMI continues to maintain very significant assets and investments in the EU and has every intention of doing so in the future."