US Government moves against Iranian bank

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration, tightening the financial vise on
Tehran, moved Tuesday to block the assets of a major Iranian bank suspected
of helping spread weapons of mass destruction.

The action against Bank Sepah, Iran's fifth-largest state-owned financial
institution, means any banks accounts or other financial assets belonging to
the bank found in the United States must be frozen. Americans also are
prohibited from doing business with the financial institution.

"Bank Sepah is the financial linchpin of Iran's missile procurement network
and has actively assisted Iran's pursuit of missiles capable of carrying
weapons of mass destruction," said Stuart Levey, Treasury's under secretary
for terrorism and financial intelligence.

The Treasury Department also added to its terror-blocking list Bank Sepah
International Plc, a wholly owned subsidiary of Bank Sepah, and Ahmad
Derakhshandeh, chairman and director of Bank Sepah.

The department alleges that Bank Sepah provides financial support and
services to Iran's Aerospace Industries Organization as well as to two
Iranian missile firms - Shahid Hemmat Industries Group and the Shahid Bakeri
Industries Group. The United States has previously accused all three of
helping to spread weapons of mass destruction.

The government said that Bank Sepah is the "bank of choice" - at least since
2000 - for Iran's Aerospace Industries Organization, a subsidiary of the
Iranian Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics, that oversees all of
Iran's missile industries and is the overall coordinator of Iran's missile

Bank Sepah "has provided a variety of critical financial services to Iran's
missile industry, arranging financing and processing dozens of multimillion
dollar transactions" for Iran's Aerospace Industries Organization and its
affiliates, Levey said.

The government also alleged that the bank has facilitated business between
the Aerospace Industries Organization and North Korea's chief ballistic
missile-related exporter, KOMID, which the government says has provided Iran
with missile technology.

"The financial relationship between Iran and North Korea, as represented by
the business handled by Bank Sepah, is of great concern to the United
," Levey said.

Levey said Tuesday's action applies to all branches of Bank Sepah, including
those in Paris, Rome and Frankfurt, its wholly-owned subsidiary in London,
as well as more than 290 branches based in Iran. The bank's Rome branch, he
said, conducted a "great deal" of the transactions the United States is
concerned about.

The department has the power to act against Bank Sepah under an executive
order issued by President Bush in June 2005.

It marked the United States' latest move against Iran, a country the United
accuses of fostering terrorism and whose nuclear ambitions have drawn
international rebuke.

Last year, the Treasury Department moved to cut off from the U.S. financial
system Bank Saderat - a big Iranian state-owned bank. The government said
Iran used the bank to transfer money to terrorist groups, including

Last month, the  U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to impose economic
sanctions on Iran. It did so because the country has refused to end a
uranium enrichment program that the United States says is aimed at building
nuclear weapons.