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.”


Alibaba confirms huge Hong Kong public listing worth at least $13bn

Updated 15 November 2019

Alibaba confirms huge Hong Kong public listing worth at least $13bn

  • Over-allocation options could take the total value to more than $13 billion, making it one of the biggest IPOs in Hong Kong for a decade
  • Alibaba Chief Executive Officer said the group wanted to participate in Hong Kong’s future

HONG KONG: Chinese technology giant Alibaba on Friday confirmed plans to list in Hong Kong in what it called a $13 billion vote of confidence in the turbulent city’s markets and a step forward in its plans to go global.
The enormous IPO, which Hong Kong had lobbied for, will come as a boost for authorities wrestling with pro-democracy protests that have tarnished the financial hub’s image for order and security and hammered its stock market.
Alibaba will offer 500 million shares at a maximum of HK$188 apiece to retail investors, the company said. The number eight is considered auspicious in China.
Over-allocation options could take the total value to more than $13 billion, making it one of the biggest IPOs in Hong Kong for a decade after insurance giant AIA raised $20.5 billion in 2010.
Alibaba had planned to list in the summer but called it off owing to the city’s long-running pro-democracy protests and the China-US trade war. The US and China are now working on sealing a partial trade deal.
Daniel Zhang, Alibaba Chief Executive Officer, said the group wanted to “contribute, in our small way, and participate in the future of Hong Kong.”
“During this time of ongoing change, we continue to believe that the future of Hong Kong remains bright,” he said.
The firm’s shares are already traded in New York. A second listing in Hong Kong is expected to curry favor with Beijing, which has sought to encourage its current and future big tech firms to list nearer to home after the loss of companies such as Baidu to Wall Street.
In the statement, Zhang said that when Alibaba went public in 2014 it “missed out on Hong Kong with regret.”
Mainland authorities have also stepped up moves to attract such listings, including launching a new technology board in Shanghai in July.
The listing comes after the city’s exchange tweaked the rules to allow double listings, while Chief Executive Carrie Lam had also been pushing Alibaba’s billionaire founder Jack Ma to sell shares in the city.
“The listing in Hong Kong will allow more of the company’s users and stakeholders in the Alibaba digital economy across Asia to invest and participate in Alibaba’s growth,” the company said.
It has long been expected to launch a multibillion-dollar stock listing in Hong Kong but appeared to postpone the offering because of political and economic turmoil.
Hong Kong’s key Hang Seng Index rose 0.48 percent in morning trading following the announcement
Chinese shoppers set new records for spending on Monday’s annual 24-hour “Singles’ Day” buying spree, despite an economic slowdown in the country and the worries over the US trade war.
It said consumers spent $38.3 billion on its platforms over that stretch, up 26 percent from the previous all-time high mark set last year.
Alibaba also said it saw record amounts of cross-border sales, underlining its plans to expand globally.
“Globalization is the future of Alibaba Group. We firmly believe the marriage of digital technology and commerce will bring about unprecedented change that will not be limited by borders,” Zhang said.