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US cracks down on Bahrain bank suspected of Iran ties

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Bush administration is imposing financial sanctions on a Bahrain bank the United States alleges is controlled by Iran's Bank Melli, which has been accused of providing support to Iran's nuclear program.

The Treasury Department's action Wednesday targets Future Bank B.S.C. Any bank accounts or other financial assets found in the U.S. belonging to the bank must be frozen. Americans also are prohibited from doing business with the bank.


It marked the government's latest effort to tighten the financial noose on Iran, which the United States accuses of bankrolling terrorism and seeking a nuclear bomb. The administration also has accused Iran of taking steps to evade a range of financial sanctions.

Future Bank was established in 2004 as a joint venture between two Iranian state-owned banks — Bank Melli and Bank Saderat — and a private bank based in Bahrain, the department said. Bank Melli and Bank Saderat were put on the United States' blacklist last year to have their financial assets frozen.

Bank Melli and Bank Saderat each hold 33.3 percent of Future Bank's outstanding shares, the department said. The department said other information available to the government — but not publicly disclosed — also demonstrates that Future Bank is controlled by Bank Melli.

"Bank Melli goes to extraordinary lengths to assist Iran's pursuit of a nuclear capability and ballistic missiles, while also helping other designated entities to dodge sanctions," said Stuart Levey, the Treasury Department's undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence. "Banks and other entities owned or controlled by Bank Melli pose a serious threat to the integrity of the international financial system," he added.

The United States last year accused Bank Melli of providing services to Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Bank Saderat was accused last year of providing support to the terrorist organizations of Hezbollah and Hamas.

The United States has the world's largest economy and the most influential banking system. Wednesday's designation of Future Bank seeks to ramp up pressure on the international financial community to cut their business ties — directly or indirectly — with Iran.

The U.N. Security Council recently passed a third round of sanctions on Iran ordering financial assets to be frozen of additional Iranian officials and companies with links to the country's nuclear and missile program. For the first time, it also banned trade with Iran in some goods that have both civilian and military use.


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