The New York Daily News by BARBARA ROSS AND WILLIAM SHERMAN - January 10, 2009
Some of the world's top banks helped Iran get around international sanctions even as the rogue nation was steering its blood money into the hands of terror groups, prosecutors charged Friday. Ten international banks including British-based Lloyds laundered "billions of dollars" for Iran through New York banks, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau announced Friday. The scheme helped Iran turn its dirty money into greenbacks, which it could then use to buy goods prohibited by international sanctions. Some of the money went to fund terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, and to help Iran get materials, including tungsten, for long-range missiles, sources said. "This is one of the biggest investigations we've ever conducted," said Morgenthau.
Lloyds admitted it laundered $300 million and agreed to pay a $350 million fine and open its books to investigators. If records show that the bank knew it was helping Iran break international law or foster terrorism, Lloyds could face criminal prosecution, authorities said. None of the other nine banks was identified because they are working out similar agreements with Morgenthau's investigators. The CIA will also review the bank records. Steven Weber, a terrorism expert and professor of political science at the University of California Berkeley, said it is unusual for a bank like Lloyds to admit wrongdoing on such a large scale. "The consensus view is that Iran is one of if not the most active state sponsors of terrorist groups," Weber said. "There's a lot of people [in the U.S. government] thinking about ways to make it much harder for Iran to move money around." The laundering began more than 13 years ago and ran through 2007, according to the DA's probe. Lloyds also washed money for Sudanese banks, even though financial dealings with both governments are prohibited by international sanctions.
In the scheme, first disclosed last March by The News, Iran would deposit huge sums in the international banks, which then converted it into dollars and parceled it out under altered names and routing codes. The money was moved through a series of smaller banks and ultimately drawn on for banned purposes. "You couldn't tell where the money was coming from or where it was going to," said Morgenthau. Because the origin of the funds was disguised, the money slipped through computerized filters at New York banks designed to stop any transfers to and from Iranian interests, Morgenthau said. Much of the money went to Iranian banks, which typically send money to terror groups in the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon and Afghanistan through front organizations and so-called charities, according to the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control. email@example.com