1014 GMT January 25, 2020
Abbas Mousavi made the remarks on Thursday in reaction to reports denoting that banks in Malaysia were closing the accounts of Iranian individuals and companies, in what is believed to be a measure linked to sanctions imposed by Washington against Tehran after the former left the landmark 2015 Iran nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Press TV reported.
Since quitting the JCPOA last year, US President Donald Trump has been running what he refers to as a "maximum pressure" campaign, which seeks to pressure Iran into negotiating a new deal that addresses its missile program and regional influence.
Elsewhere in his remarks, Mousavi said, “Unfortunately, under the influence of the United States economic terrorism, some Malaysian banks have considered restrictions for opening accounts and providing services to Iranian nationals.”
“Our country’s embassy in Malaysia is in talks with Malaysian state institutions and banking officials … and various rounds of talks have been held with relevant Malaysian officials with the main topic on the agenda of those talks being to find a solution to this problem,” Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman added.
Mousavi also expressed hope that the “friendly country of Malaysia” will adopt measures based on goodwill as well as its clear stance against unilateral sanctions to find solutions to this problem.
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Wednesday told reporters the country was being forced to “make it difficult” for Iranians to live normal lives in the country, Reuters reported.
Nearly a dozen affected people told Reuters that US sanctions are having far-reaching effects on citizens of the Islamic Republic.
“Our ties are very good with Tehran, but we face some very strong pressures from certain quarters, which you may guess,” Mahathir Mohamad said, without naming where the pressure was coming from.
“We are forced to do this because if we don’t, they will close our banks abroad. It’s a kind of bullying by very powerful people.”
The affected Iranians and one embassy official said there were “mass closures” in the Southeast Asian country in recent months.
He said it did not mean Malaysia was “helping” stifle the movement of Iranians here, reiterating that the country was forced to take the action.
Trump announced on September 20 that his country has imposed sanctions on Iran's Central Bank in the latest round of Washington’s anti-Iran measures, adding that sanctions imposed on Iran’s Central Bank were the highest sanctions ever imposed on a foreign country by Washington.
In reaction, Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the US sanctions on the Central Bank clearly showed Washington’s “desperate approach” toward the Islamic Republic.
“The new sanctions are aimed at blocking Iran’s international transactions and its access to food and medicine. This move is unacceptable and dangerous,” Zarif added.
The banks were being “more Catholic than the Pope”, said university lecturer Behrang Samadi, who is among an estimated 10,000 Iranians living in Malaysia. He learnt in August that his bank, CIMB, would close his 14-year-old account.
“In Western countries, there is no problem opening bank accounts,” he added. “They are only sensitive about money transfers, especially in big amounts.”
Samadi said he withdrew his money soon after the bank warned him of the closure within a month’s time, although he was still able to access his account online on Sunday.
Washington imposed sanctions over Iran's nuclear program late last year, but Malaysia has maintained good diplomatic ties with Tehran.
It was not clear if the account closures were linked to the tracking of a tanker of Iranian fuel oil off Malaysia this year, a development that annoyed the United States.
The US State Department did not respond to a request for comment, Reuters said.
Many Iranians said they knew of dozens of compatriots who had received notices from CIMB and RHB Bank.
“We regret to inform (you) that we are unable to continue the banking relationship,” CIMB said in identical notices reviewed by Reuters.
The banks did not state a reason, but some individuals said bank officials attributed the move to tighter scrutiny after the sanctions.
CIMB and RHB declined to comment. Malaysia’s Central Bank directed queries to the Association of Banks in Malaysia, which declined to comment.
Such matters depended on individual banks’ own risk appetite and assessment, the central bank said this month in an email response to one Iranian’s complaint that was viewed by Reuters.
Iran’s Embassy in Kuala Lumpur said it was working to resolve the banking issues.
“We hope that by goodwill and cooperation of the Malaysian officials, the negotiations will yield a positive result,” it told Reuters in an email last week, adding that Iranian companies had also been affected.