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Hong Kong Monetary Authority

Iranian bank waits it out in HK

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 11:10pm

One of the three Iranian banks named by the US regulator for illegal dealings with Standard Chartered Bank has been operating in Hong Kong for more than a decade but has been barred from taking new clients here since 2008.

The South China Morning Post yesterday visited the Hong Kong office of Melli Bank and found it was business as usual for the staff members.

Mirakber Ali Abedi, the acting chief executive of Melli Bank, said he has been working for the Iranian bank's Hong Kong operation for 14 years. 'These days we can do nothing other than returning money to our clients,' said Indian-born Abedi.

The bank, which has a Hong Kong Monetary Authority licence, maintains it is waiting for clients to withdraw their deposits.

The HKMA restriction on the bank came after the European Union imposed sanctions on Iran in June 2008.

According to the HKMA website, in December 2005 it granted a banking licence to Melli Bank, which is incorporated in Britain and is a wholly owned subsidiary of Bank Melli Iran. Since then, Melli Bank took over all Hong Kong businesses of Bank Melli Iran, which is among the three banks named by New York's department of financial services for alleged illegal dealings with StanChart.

Standard Chartered Bank yesterday denied allegations of any wrongdoing while its spokeswoman refused to confirm any dealings with Melli Bank's Hong Kong operation, citing confidentiality of client information.

Responding to queries from the Post, Bank of East Asia and Hang Seng Bank said they had not done any business with Melli Bank. HSBC declined to comment.

Located on the 18th floor of an office building in Sheung Wan, Melli Bank stays open from 9.30am to 4pm on weekdays. The branch only has three rooms - one of them packed with sundries - and four desks in the lobby area. It has more than enough space for its workforce as there are just three of them - Abedi and two local Chinese staff who handle customer services and accounting work.

'Before, a lot of people would come every day. But now there are less than 10 a month,' Abedi said.

He refused to elaborate on how much of the deposits - which have kept the bank going for four years despite the high overheads in Hong Kong - were left.

'Even if there is only one dollar left, we have to be here [to give it back].'

Bank Melli Iran's official website shows Hong Kong is one of its 16 overseas operations. The bank was established in 1928 and has over 3,300 branches in Iran.