NIAC Calls for Bank of America to Stop Closures of Iranian American Bank Accounts

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For years, Iranian Americans have had their bank accounts shuttered as a direct result of their Iranian national origin or heritage. This is a form of discrimination that is profoundly damaging, throwing individuals into financial limbo while they wait to see if and when the bank will release their life savings. If you have faced discrimination from a bank account or had your account frozen, consider sharing your story so that we can build a documented case for why these discriminatory actions need to halt. 

Banks cite this as precautionary efforts to abide by U.S. sanctions that prohibit individuals from operating bank accounts in Iran. While not technically required by law, many of these banks judge that the risk of running afoul of sanctions outweighs the risk of engaging in discrimination against Iranian Americans. 

This is why NIAC is petitioning the Department of Treasury for a formal rule change to license Americans to operate bank accounts from Iran. We believe that we can change this rule and end these bank’s discriminatory actions against our community. 

A significant majority of complaints we have received come as a result of actions from Bank of America. Despite multiple efforts since 2014 by NIAC to engage Bank of America to fix their policies, Bank of America continues to engage in account closures of Iranian Americans.

That is why NIAC has again sent a letter to Bank of America clarifying that sanctions do not obligate them to close bank accounts of individuals ordinarily resident in the United States, while holding the option open to take legal action to protect the interests of Iranian Americans and bring an end to their discriminatory treatment at Bank of America.

Know that NIAC will not stop fighting for you, whether we are up against Trump’s Treasury, Bank of America, or anyone else harming Iranian Americans.


Download a PDF of the letter here

July 19, 2019

Dear Mr. Leitch:

I am writing on behalf of the National Iranian American Council (“NIAC”), the largest grassroots organization in the United States representing the interests of Iranian Americans, regarding Bank of America’s treatment of its U.S. customers of Iranian origin. Over the past several years, we have received persistent questions and complaints from Iranian Americans and Iranian nationals in the U.S. whose bank accounts have been abruptly closed by Bank of America – in some cases without notice and in other cases even when documents requested by the bank were submitted by these customers that confirmed that the provision of services to such customers was lawful. Our review of this material indicates that Bank of America has adopted policies and practices that are clearly discriminatory towards customers of Iranian origin. We therefore request that Bank of America immediately remediate its internal policies and procedures to ensure that such discrimination ceases. Absent such steps, we reserve the right to pursue litigation regarding this matter.

While we understand from past engagement that Bank of America cites U.S. sanctions on Iran as the basis for its actions, the actions undertaken by Bank of America are unwarranted as a matter of law. U.S. sanctions targeting Iran do not prohibit Bank of America from holding accounts on behalf of customers of Iranian origin. Instead, U.S. sanctions prohibit Bank of America from servicing “Iranian accounts,” which are defined for purposes of the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (“ITSR”), 31 C.F.R. Part 560, as “accounts of persons ordinarily resident in Iran, except when such persons are not located in Iran.” Unless Bank of America has indication that a customer is a person ordinarily resident in Iran and is physically located in Iran, Bank of America has no legal obligation to deny services to a given customer under the ITSR.  

We find it egregious that Bank of America would treat its customers of Iranian origin in such a manner rather than appropriately tailoring its compliance policies and procedures in such a way as to ensure it conforms its conduct to the demands of U.S. law while respecting its customers’ rights and providing its customers exceptional service. We remain interested in discussing steps that Bank of America can take to ensure that its customers of Iranian origin are not treated in a discriminatory manner by the bank, and we reserve the right to pursue litigation to resolve this issue if necessary. 

We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

 

Jamal Abdi
President, National Iranian American Council

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