News & Publications

May 9, 2018

NIAC Sends Letter to Bank of America Demanding Immediate End to Bank Account Closures

Washington, D.C. — Today, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) delivered a letter to Bank of America CEO, Brian T. Moynihan, concerning the alarming amount of customers of Iranian descent that have contacted NIAC because they have had their bank accounts suspended or closed, and funds wrongfully withheld, without any advance notice or recourse.

Four years ago, NIAC contacted Bank of America in May 2014 concerning the same issue of discrimination against customers of Iranian descent. We noted that NIAC had successfully partnered with the Bank of Hawaii to come to a solution which would allow the bank to comply with existing U.S. sanction laws, while also delivering outstanding customer service to all bank customer, regardless of national origin.

It is deeply concerning to NIAC that after four years, Bank of America has still not taken the concerns of the Iranian-American community seriously and has continued its problematic policy of enforcing sanctions to the point of discrimination and disparate treatment towards certain customers because they’re Iranian.

Ordinary Iranian-Americans who have had to navigate confusing U.S. sanction laws know full well the complex maze which makes compliance exceedingly difficult. But sanction laws do not outweigh the civil rights and liberties of the customers of an entity like Bank of America. And sanctions certainly do not excuse or justify discriminatory conduct by U.S. banks and corporations. It is Bank of America’s duty to strike a proper balance between compliance with sanctions and strict observance of civil rights laws.

If Bank of America finds U.S. sanction laws unduly burdensome and difficult to navigate, they will find a willing partner in NIAC to help voice these concerns to the Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC). But discriminatorily targeting customers on the basis of nationality cannot be justified by the complexities of sanction laws.

In our letter, we cited an example of an Iranian national who was living in the United States with his wife, on valid visas, and had his Bank of America account abruptly suspended. The customer and his pregnant wife had several thousands of dollars withheld from them by Bank of America for about three months before they contacted NIAC to intervene, desperate because they needed the money for medical appointments and treatment. After about a week of discussions with NIAC, Bank of America finally remitted the customer’s money to him without so much as an apology for withholding the money without any legal justification whatsoever and causing significant hardship to their family.

This pattern of conduct by Bank of America is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. NIAC calls on Bank of America to immediately suspend this discriminatory practice of bank account closures for customers of Iranian descent, and come to the table to work in partnership with NIAC to develop a solution that will ensure compliance with U.S. sanction laws, while avoiding discriminating against customers of Iranian descent living in the United States.

NIAC will continue to actively monitor this situation and Bank of America’s conduct. We fervently hope that we are able to work in partnership with Bank of America and reach a comprehensive  resolution to this matter, but NIAC also owes a duty to the Iranian-American community and is committed to protecting the community against flagrant acts of discrimination. NIAC will utilize all tools at its disposal to ensure that we meet this commitment, including large-scale public campaigns and litigation, if necessary.

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