Many Italian banks are now closing the accounts of Iranian citizens after having made it very difficult to open them. Sometimes without giving any real justification, at others openly explaining that because of their nationality they prefer not to have them as clients. To avoid problems with the U.S. authorities.
This is not an oversight caused by the lockdown or an incorrect interpretation of the preventive measures adopted for the pandemic, but a practice in place for some time. When Ramin Moradi arrived in Rome in 2017, with a scholarship to conduct research in the field of low-temperature energy recovery systems from waste, he was delighted to be able to continue his career in Italy. He never imagined that the shadow of international sanctions against Iran could ever affect over a student officially invited to our country as a PhD student in Energy and Environment at La Sapienza University in Rome.
“At first I was enthusiastic about the prospect of a new experience of life here,” said Ramin during an interview with InsideOver. “It was a great opportunity to continue my career in a European city. Then I found the banks were unwilling to let me open an account, and for no particular reason.” Needing a bank account to receive his monthly salary, as required by the scholarship, Ramin started trekking from bank to bank, from one branch to another. “This is how I discovered Rome. If you ask me about a monument in the city, I could tell you which bank is nearest to it!”
International sanctions and the Italian scenario
The embargo against Iran was brought in immediately after the Islamic Revolution in 1979. It was adopted by the United States following the attack on its embassy. The international community and the UN then added a series of economic sanctions, with a further crackdown over the last 15 years in response to the “non-suspension” of the Iranian nuclear program. This affected not only arms exports and nuclear technology, but all sectors, from food to medicine, medical technologies and bank accounts.
According to Istat, 12,500 Iranian citizens are resident in Italy. The number is much higher if you consider those in Italy for study or work. Many of them were officially invited to Italy and this makes their story even more paradoxical. Ramin Moradi’s story sounds like the beginning of a joke, but it has a bitter ending. “I saw it with my own eyes in one of those banks. There were three of us, all students. I was from Iran, the second was from Pakistan and the third from India,” he explains. “They took our passports, opened the accounts for the other two and turned down my application. The clerk told me it was because of my nationality and that the bank was not interested in working with Iranians.”
In recent years, some of the major European and Italian banks have had to pay fines of hundreds of millions of dollars to the United States for alleged violations of international sanctions against Iran. This explains their reluctance to open current accounts and establish working relationships with Iranian clients.
Between published studies and cash at home
After weeks of unsuccessful attempts and now in despair, Ramin finally succeeded in his efforts to open a bank account, albeit with a very low limit on transactions. So every month, with one eye on the calendar, he had to withdraw money and make room for the university’s bank transfer, keeping the cash at home. Meanwhile he continued his prolific research, publishing scientific articles entitled “Optimising a solar air generator with phase-change materials” (2017), “Analysis of a micro-cogeneration system consisting of a steam injected gas turbine powered by Syngas and integrated with the organic Rankine cycle” (2019), and the more recent “Integration of biomass gasification with a micro-gas turbine with steam injection and an organic Rankine cycle unit for the combined production of heat and energy” (2020).
After more than two years of outstanding results and great hardships, Ramin tried to change his current account so as to no longer be subject to the same limits, since he had to go to the United Kingdom for a mobility plan entailed by his PhD and after winning an academic award. To than end he made an appointment with the bank, but after waiting ten days, he saw things go from bad to worse. He account was closed, his credit card cut in two and he was handed a cheque for the cash balance.
Even during the global emergency due to the spread of coronavirus, the hostilities between the American and Iranian administrations have failed to bring about a truce.
The current economic crisis is exacerbating the hardships already caused by American sanctions, putting the lives of Iranian citizens , as well as respect for their fundamental rights even more at risk, even in Italy. Before closing accounts, banks are meant to carry out extensive checks into the account holders’ activities. But since this is troublesome and entails various costs, most of them prefer to close such accounts summarily, without making any distinctions and in a particularly discriminatory context. Many Iranian citizens have tried to raise these issues through protests on social media, comments in forums and letters to the press. Most of them are ignored amid general indifference. “I’ve suffered from severe discrimination because of my nationality in Italy, which is a member of the European Union,” concludes Ramin. “I expected my civil rights to be better respected here. The university invited me, but unfortunately society is not ready. Perhaps they should avoid bringing students here, it might all be much simpler.”