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Al-monitor - On March 6, The New York Times reported that a Luxembourg court has ordered the freezing of $1.6 billion of Central Bank of Iran (CBI) assets. The move came after a group of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, who had won a default judgment against Iran in the United States, filed a lawsuit in the European court to try to enforce the ruling. The administration of moderate President Hassan Rouhani, coming under fire from hard-line media, has pinned the new asset freeze on the previous government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
AUTHOR Rohollah Faghihi
On March 7, Deputy Foreign Minister for European and American Affairs Majid Takht-Ravanchi said, "This is not a new development, and the asset freeze took place before negotiations on the nuclear accord began." The nuclear deal was signed between Iran and six world powers in July 2015, following almost two years of talks. Ever since its implementation, Iranian hard-liners have been complaining that the accord is not in the interest of Tehran, with the West not honoring some of its commitments. Takht-Ravanchi added that CBI lawyers are currently consulting Luxembourg lawyers to help Tehran access the funds in question.
On the same day, a CBI official announced that the US court ruling is contrary to international law and lacks power of enforcement in Luxembourg. The director general of the CBI's Legal Affairs Department, Ardeshir Fereydouni, said that following the issuing of default judgments against Iran by US courts, certain American plaintiffs have sought to recognize and enforce the rulings in other countries. He said that the assets have not been seized, but rather that the Luxembourg court is busy reviewing the case and addressing the question of whether the ruling issued by the US court can be recognized and enforced in Luxembourg. "Absolutely, as long as the investigations are not complete and the court [Luxembourg] ruling has not been issued, Iran's assets in Luxembourg cannot be accessed or withdrawn in favor of the plaintiffs," Fereydouni said.
CBI chief Valiollah Seif said March 8, "The Luxembourg court hasn't accepted the US court ruling to seize the assets of Iran." He reiterated that CBI lawyers are pursuing the matter. Seif also predicted that the US claimants would likely be unsuccessful in their endeavor.
Meanwhile, charging that the asset freeze is a result of mismanagement on the part of the administration of ex-President Ahmadinejad, Minister of Economic Affairs and Finance Ali Tayyebnia said March 8, "In 2007, the Luxembourg company [bank] warned Iran that it would be better [for Tehran] to transfer its assets, but this wasn't given any attention." However, he added that the US court ruling is contrary to international law, and he expressed hope that the Luxembourg court will rule in favor of Iran.
In reaction to the asset freeze, hard-line Kayhan daily has once again railed against the foreign policy of the Rouhani administration.
"What the deputy foreign minister ignores is that despite the US court ruling's having taken place before the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action], the freezing of Iran's $1.6 billion in Luxembourg was done in the past year and even on the same day as the [nuclear deal] was implemented," Kayhan wrote March 8, referring to Takht-Ravanchi's abovementioned remarks.
Kayhan added, "In a synchronized measure to issue an unfair ruling, it is clear that both the United States and Luxembourg took part in a violation of the JCPOA."
The hard-line daily, which is a strong opponent of the Rouhani administration's foreign policy and especially the nuclear deal, argued, "The policy of silence and passivity of the [incumbent] 11th government in response to the confiscation of Iran's $2 billion in the early part of the current [Iranian] year [March 19, 2016-March 20, 2017] by the Americans has caused a country like Luxembourg to join the group of looters of Iranian assets."
This is not the first time that Iran's assets in Europe and the United States have been frozen over legal claims to do with terrorist attacks. In April 2016, the US Supreme Court ruled that $2 billion of Iranian assets had to be turned over to the American families of the people killed in a 1983 bombing in Beirut and other attacks blamed on Iran. Iran has denied any role in these attacks, and also strongly insists on the principle of state immunity under international law.
The $2 billion confiscated under the April 2016 US court ruling also belongs to the CBI. When the funds were frozen, the Rouhani administration similarly pinned the blame on the former Ahmadinejad government, citing poor oversight and management. Vice President Eshag Jahangiri said on April 23, 2016, "Under the previous administration, it was decided that a part of the Central Bank's resources be managed in Europe. ... Therefore, with complete poor planning, $2 billion of American bonds were purchased and kept in a European bank, so the Americans were able to easily block the bonds and then confiscate them."