UK bank accounts of Iranian customers still being closed, says law firm

A UK law firm handling more than 60 complaints by Iranian nationals who have had their UK bank accounts closed allegedly because of their nationality has reported a continuation in such closures since Donald Trump assumed office.

Iranian nationals living legally in the UK often have to go to extra lengths when opening a bank account and many who already with one have complained about their accounts being abruptly closed. Some banks refuse to explain why, while others cite sanctions against Iran as the main reason.

Blackstone Solicitors represents a string of Iranians who have taken high street banks to court over allegations of racial discrimination. The firm said account closures have taken place despite the lifting of sanctions after the 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and the world powers.

All nuclear-related sanctions imposed by the EU and the UN against Iran were lifted in January 2016 when it was announced that Tehran had fully complied with the terms of the landmark nuclear accord, known as the the joint comprehensive plan of action.

Ordinary citizens were exempted from the punitive measures even when sanctions were in place but the complex nature of the sanctions regime and overcompliance by banks means Iranians unrelated to the government are still being punished.

“In the past two or three months more people have come to us to instruct us to act on their behalf because of their bank account closures,” Rokhsareh Vahid, head of the Iran desk at Blackstone, told the Guardian. “In total we have more than 60 cases involving Iranians who have sued banks over racial discrimination.”

Vahid said her firm has secured compensation in most of those cases, often as the result of pre-trial settlements. “I only recall one case which was not successful,” she said. “A lot of such settlements include non-disclosure agreements, so we won’t be able to publicise them.”

An Iranian student in Greater Manchester represented by Blackstone received a five-figure compensation from RBS in July 2016. He had been an RBS customer for seven years. The Guardian is not publishing his name to protect his identity.

“Upon his arrival in the UK in 2008, our client opened a bank account at RBS. He maintained this account without any issues until he received a notice of closure in 2015,” Blackstone said. “RBS wrote to our client to advise him that his account would be closed in 60 days. These incidents happened before sanctions on Iran were partially lifted in January 2016.”

Blackstone was first contacted a week before the scheduled closure of the student’s account. “Immediately, we contacted RBS demanding that our client’s rights are recognised,” the firm said. “We proceeded to file a complaint against the bank and pursued it until our client recovered a total of £31,200 from RBS in July 2016.”

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