Iranians in Malaysia say banks close their accounts as US sanctions bite

It is unclear if the closures of Iranian bank accounts in Malaysia is related to the tracking of Iranian fuel oil offshore Malaysia this year. (File/AFP)
Updated 30 October 2019

Iranians in Malaysia say banks close their accounts as US sanctions bite

  • An Iranian university lecturer was told his 14-year-old account would be closed
  • Malaysia kept good diplomatic relations with Iran after US sanctions

KUALA LUMPUR: Banks in Malaysia are closing the accounts of Iranian individuals and companies, nearly a dozen affected people told Reuters, in a sign that US sanctions are having a far-reaching impact on citizens of the Islamic republic.
Although Malaysian banks seemed to be more cautious in dealing with Iranians than those elsewhere, some Iranians and one embassy official said, there were “mass closures” in the Southeast Asian country in recent months.
The banks were being “more Catholic than the Pope,” said university lecturer Behrang Samadi, who is among an estimated 10,000 Iranians living in Malaysia and learnt in August that his bank, CIMB, would close his 14-year-old account.
“In Western countries, there is no problem opening bank accounts,” he added. “They are only sensitive about money transfers, especially in big amounts.”
Samadi said he withdrew his money soon after the bank warned him of the closure within a month’s time, though he was still able to access his account online on Sunday.
Despite Washington’s sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program imposed late last year, Malaysia has kept up good diplomatic ties with Tehran, and last week, their leaders discussed ways to further strengthen ties.
It was not clear if the account closures were linked to the tracking of a tanker of Iranian fuel oil offshore Malaysia this year, a development that annoyed the United States.
The US State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for Malaysia’s prime minister did not respond to Reuters’ questions.
Many Iranians said they knew of dozens of compatriots who had received notices from CIMB and RHB Bank.
“We regret to inform (you) that we are unable to continue the banking relationship,” CIMB said in identical notices reviewed by Reuters.
The banks did not state a reason, but some individuals said bank officials attributed the move to tighter scrutiny after the sanctions.
CIMB and RHB declined to comment. Malaysia’s central bank directed queries to the Association of Banks in Malaysia, which declined to comment.
Such matters depended on individual banks’ own risk appetite and assessment, the central bank said this month in an email response to one Iranian’s complaint that was viewed by Reuters.
But a July notification on the central bank’s website refers to a statement by the Financial Action Task Force urging “enhanced due diligence” on Iranians by members of the global money laundering watchdog.
Iran’s embassy in Kuala Lumpur said it was working to resolve the issue.
“We hope that by goodwill and cooperation of the Malaysian officials, the negotiations will yield a positive result,” it told Reuters in an email last week, adding that Iranian companies had also been affected.
For now, Iranians in the Malaysian capital have been left wondering how to pay school fees or hospital bills.
“Without a bank account we need to use the ancient techniques, keeping money under the pillow or in teapots,” said one of them, who sought anonymity. “It’s not fair.”


Struggling Victoria’s Secret sold as women demand comfort

Updated 22 February 2020

Struggling Victoria’s Secret sold as women demand comfort

  • Chairman calls time following difficult year of Epstein links and controversy over chief marketing officer comments

NEW YORK: Victoria’s Secret has a new owner. Now, the big question is whether the once sought after but now struggling brand can be reinvented for a new generation of women demanding more comfortable styles.

The company’s owner, L Brands, said that the private-equity firm Sycamore Partners would buy 55 percent of Victoria’s Secret for about $525 million. The company, based in Columbus, Ohio, will keep the remaining 45 percent stake. After the sale, L Brands will be left with its Bath & Body Works chain and Victoria’s Secret will become a private company.

Les Wexner, 82, who founded the parent company in 1963, will step down as chairman and CEO after the transaction is completed, and become chairman emeritus. Wexner has faced seperate troubles, including questions over his ties to late financier Jeffrey Epstein, who was indicted on sex-trafficking charges.

The selling price for Victoria’s Secret signifies a marked decline for a brand with hundreds of stores that booked about $7 billion in revenue last year.

In a statement, Wexner said the deal would provide the best path to restoring Victoria’s Secret’s businesses to their “historical levels of profitability and growth.” The deal will also allow the company to reduce debt and Sycamore will bring a “fresh perspective and greater focus to the business,” he said.

To successfully turn around Victoria’s Secret, Sycamore will need to change up the corporate culture, reinvent fashions and redesign the stores to make them more contemporary, experts say. Sycamore manages a $10 billion portfolio including retailers as Belk, Hot Topic and Talbots.

The management team at Victoria’s Secret essentially was designing what men wanted, and not catering to women’s tastes, said Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail.

“The brand is very embedded in the past,” said Saunders. “It was always about men feeling good. It should be about making women feel good about themselves.”

Victoria’s Secret has an unparalleled history of success. The brand was founded by the late Roy Larson Raymond in the 1970s after he felt embarrassed about purchasing lingerie for his wife. Wexner, the founder of the then Limited Stores Inc., purchased Victoria’s Secret in 1982 and turned it into a powerful retail force. By the mid-1990s, Victoria’s Secret lit up runways and later filled the internet with its supermodels and an annual television special that mixed fashion, beauty and music.

That glamor has faded and so have sales in the last few years. The show was canceled last year, and shares of Victoria Secret’s parent have gone from triple digits less than five years ago to a quarter of that today.

Victoria’s Secret struggled to keep up with competition and failed to respond to changing tastes among women who want more comfortable styles. Rivals like Adore Me and ThirdLove, which have sprouted up online and marketed themselves heavily on social media platforms like Instagram, have focused on fit and comfort while offering more options for different body types. Meanwhile, American Eagle’s Aerie lingerie chain, which partners with women activists like Manuela Baron, has also lured customers away from Victoria’s Secret.

And in the era of the “Me Too” movement, women are looking for brands that focus on positive reinforcement of their bodies.

“Victoria’s Secret will need to empower women, not make them spectacles,” said Jon Reily, senior vice president and global head of commerce strategy at digital consultancy Isobar.

Stacey Widlitz, president of SW Retail Advisers, a retail consultancy, said that Victoria’s Secret designs in the last few years had gone in the opposite direction to what women wanted, ever sexier and poorer in quality.

And while last year Victoria’s Secret started featuring more diverse models, including its first openly transgender model, the moves fell short.

Victoria’s Secret suffered a 12 percent drop in same-store sales during the most recent holiday season. L Brands said on Thursday that same-store sales declined 10 percent at Victoria’s Secret during the fourth quarter. Bath & Body Works, which has been a bright spot, enjoyed a 10 percent increase. The skincare chain represents more than 80 percent of L Brands’ operating profit.

“The (Victoria’s Secret) brand has lost its way, while the lingerie market is not large or high growth, and has become commoditized,” Randal Konik, an analyst at Jefferies, wrote Thursday. “Furthermore, with athleisure taking over, the need for regular bras continues to wane.”

The company has also been beset by allegations of a toxic work environment and its founder recently apologized for his ties to Epstein, who was found hanged in his cell after federal indictment for sex trafficking of minors. L Brands’ Chief Marketing Officer Ed Razek resigned last August after making controversial comments about why transgender models shouldn’t partake in its annual fashion event.

Epstein started managing Wexner’s money in the late 1980s and helped straighten out the finances for a real estate development backed by Wexner in a wealthy suburb of Columbus. Wexner has said he completely severed ties with Epstein nearly 12 years ago and accused him of misappropriating “vast sums” of his fortune.

Wexner offered an apology at the opening address of L Brands’ annual investor day last fall, saying he was “embarrassed” by his former ties with Epstein.

Wexner is the longest-serving CEO of an S&P 500 company. He founded what would eventually become L Brands in 1963 with The Limited retail chain, according to the company’s website. Wexner owns approximately 16.71 percent of L Brands, according to FactSet.

Mike Robbins, a San Francisco-based corporate culture expert who has advised chains including Gap and Sephora, said the team at Victoria’s Secret would have to retrain workers and hire more people with diverse voices.

“They have a lot of work to do — within the company and also outside with the customers,” Robbins said. “The companies that are able to have (a) great culture attract the best employees.”