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A new reason to worry about Iran-Venezuela ties

The increasingly friendly relationship between Iran and Venezuela is hardly a secret. Just yesterday, Venezuela announced that it will begin exporting 20,000 barrels of gasoline per day to the Islamic Republic. This followed a meeting on Saturday between Presidents Ahmadinejad and Chavez during which the two leaders promised to stand together to defeat imperialist foes. ...

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The increasingly friendly relationship between Iran and Venezuela is hardly a secret. Just yesterday, Venezuela announced that it will begin exporting 20,000 barrels of gasoline per day to the Islamic Republic. This followed a meeting on Saturday between Presidents Ahmadinejad and Chavez during which the two leaders promised to stand together to defeat imperialist foes.

Legendary New York District Attorney Robert Morganthau explained his concerns about the link in a talk at the Brookings Institution today, sponsored by the the American Interest magazine and Global Financial Integrity. According to Morganthau, some of the most dangerous aspects of the relationship take place far from the cameras, in the shadowy world of illicit finance:

The ostensible reason the the Iranian owned Banco International de Desarrollo (BID) was opened in Caracas was to expand economic ties with Venezuela. Our sources and experiences lead me to suspet an ulterior motive. A foothold into the Venezuelan banking system is a perfect “sanctions-busting” method — the main motivator for Iran in its banking relationship with Venezuela. Despite being designated by OFAC we believe that BID has several correspondent banking relationships with both Venezuelan banks and banks in Panama, anation with a long-standing reputation as a money laundering safe-haven.

This scheme is known as “nesting.” Nested accounts occur when a foreign financial institution gains access to the U.S.  financial system by operating through a U.S. correspondent account belonging to another foreign financial institution. For example, BID who is prohibited from establishing a relationship with a U.S. bank could instead establish a relationship with a Venezuelan or Panamanian bank that has a relationship with a U.S. bank.  If the U.S. bank is unaware that its foreign correspondent financial institution customer is providing such access to a sanctioned third-party foreign financial institution, this third-party financial institution can effectively gain anonymous access to the U.S. financial system. […]

There is little reason to doubt Venezuela’s support for Ahmadinejad’s most important agenda, the development of a nuclear program and long-range missiles, and the destabilization of the region. For Iran, the lifeblood of their nuclear and weapons programs is the ability to use the international banking system and to make payments for banned missile and nuclear materials. The opening of Venezuela’s banks to the Iranians guarantees the continued development of nuclear technology and long-range missiles. 

Morganthau’s office recently prosecuted British bank Lloyds for helping Iran move money through the U.S. financial system by stripping identifying information from wire transfers. He believes the cozy Chavez-Ahmadinejad relationship will only make such operations easier for the Iranians. 

Morganthau stopped short of announcing specific prosecutions, but from the sound of it, some new revelations may be forthcoming. 

Photo by David Shankbone. Used under Creative Commons license.  

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