In news that is almost amazingly still shocking, a GOP-led Senate report released Wednesday alleges the Obama administration tried to help Iranian government officials skirt US financial sanctions to help them retrieve almost $6 billion from an Omani bank. And they lied about doing it.
After signing the 2015 nuclear deal, which unfroze Iran’s U.S. accounts in exchange for the regime’s non-proliferation pledge, the Obama administration publicly maintained that all non-nuclear sanctions barring Iran from operating within the U.S. financial system would remain in place.
Despite this pledge to the public and Congress, in February 2016 the administration assisted Tehran in recovering $5.7 billion held in the Bank Muscat in the Persian Gulf state of Oman, according to the report, compiled by the Senate’s permanent subcommittee on investigations. And, according to the report, administration officials continued to misled Congress after the license was issued.
“Even after the specific license was issued, U.S. government officials maintained in congressional testimony that Iran would not be granted access to the U.S. financial system,” the report noted.
Under the terms of the nuclear deal, Iran was entitled to access the funds, which were held in Omani rials, a currency that is notoriously difficult to convert. The Obama administration attempted to help the Iranians convert the funds to Euros by issuing a special treasury license to two large U.S. banks empowering them to convert the funds first into dollars and then euros.
According to an Axios report, the initial attempt to subvert the sanctions — while maintaining the public line that all sanctions remained firmly in place — was unsuccessful because two banks the administration approached denied their request due to concern about violating sanctions.
The deal would have allowed Iran to convert $5.7 billion worth of Omani rials to euros by exchanging them into U.S. dollars first.
- That would’ve been a violation of a sanction that bars Iran from transactions touching the U.S. financial system.
- The administration approached two U.S. banks about the transaction, but because they feared falling victim to U.S. sanctions, they declined to participate.
Let that sink in: two US banks said no to the Obama administration’s attempts to financially empower Iran because it was an illegal request.
It’s worth recalling that this same administration sent $400 million in cash on a plane to Iran just after the Iran deal was signed, and ostensibly in relation to the release of four American prisoners.
Senate Subcommittee Chairman Rob Portman (R., Ohio) told the Washington Post that the administration “misled the American people” by granting Iran access to the U.S. financial system. “I think they did it because they were so eager to get an agreement with Iran,” Portman said.
A former Obama official countered that assessment, telling the Post that granting the license was not the same as “granting access to the U.S. financial system.”