US sanctions Iranian bank accused of funneling millions to terror group
Posted May 15, 2018 12:07 p.m. EDT
WASHINGTON (CNN) — The US Treasury Department announced new sanctions on Tuesday against Iranian officials at Iran's Central Bank and an Iraqi bank chairman accused of moving millions of dollars to Hezbollah on behalf of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force.
The new sanctions are part of the administration's efforts to address Tehran's "malign influence" in the region, an effort that, in conjunction with President Donald Trump's decision to remove the US from the Iran nuclear deal and Monday's controversial opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem, has led to a spike in tensions across the Middle East.
"Iran's Central Bank Governor covertly funneled millions of dollars on behalf of the IRGC-QF through Iraq-based al-Bilad Islamic Bank to enrich and support the violent and radical agenda of Hizballah," a statement from Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said.
"It is appalling, but not surprising, that Iran's senior-most banking official would conspire with the IRGC-QF to facilitate funding of terror groups like Hizballah, and it undermines any credibility he could claim in protecting the integrity of the institution as a central bank governor," he added.
In announcing his plan to abandon the Iran nuclear deal last week, President Donald Trump said he planned to reintroduce the highest level of economic pressure on the Iranian regime -- an indication that Tuesday's sanctions are likely just the tip of the iceberg as the administration works to tighten the vice on Tehran.
"The United States will not permit Iran's increasingly brazen abuse of the international financial system. The global community must remain vigilant against Iran's deceptive efforts to provide financial support to its terrorist proxies," Mnuchin said on Tuesday.
Earlier this month, the Treasury Department said it also disrupted an IRGC-QF-related currency exchange network that was "producing millions of dollars through the UAE" as part of the administration's broader effort to ramp up the pressure on Tehran.
"These actions build upon President Trump's May 8 decision to cease the United States' participation in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and begin reimposing US sanctions that had been lifted under the JCPOA, including against the Central Bank of Iran," Tuesday's statement said.
Last week, the White House issued a statement condemning Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Pointing to missiles fired at Israel from Syria and missiles fired into Saudi Arabia by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, the White House said the events were "further proof that the Iranian regime's reckless actions pose a severe threat to regional peace and security."
While global capitals issued calls for calm, the White House issued a staunch defense of Israel and a warning for Iran after the archenemies exchanged missile fire for hours in the Golan Heights last week.
The administration "strongly support Israel's right to act in self-defense," the White House said in a statement Thursday.
"The Iranian regime's deployment into Syria of offensive rocket and missile systems aimed at Israel is an unacceptable and highly dangerous development for the entire Middle East," the statement said. "Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps bears full responsibility for the consequences of its reckless actions, and we call on the IRGC and its militant proxies, including Hezbollah, to take no further provocative steps."
Syria said the Israeli attacks marked a new phase in the conflict there, and vowed to retaliate.