Iran and USA in row over frozen assets in Luxembourg

Luxembourg currently finds itself in the midst of a row between Iran and the USA over 1.6 billion dollars of Iranian assets frozen in the Grand Duchy and claimed by the USA as compensation for Iran’s alleged role in the 9/11-attacks.

Iran said Tuesday it was “completely unfair” for US lawyers to try to seize its overseas assets as compensation for the victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

In 2012, a New York judge ordered Iran to pay seven billion dollars in damages to the families and estates of victims from the attacks, arguing that the country had aided Al-Qaeda by allowing the group’s members to travel through its territory.

Assets frozen by a Luxembourg judge

Since Iran rejects the accusation and refuses to pay the money, the lawyers are now trying to access 1.6 billion dollars of Iranian money frozen in Luxembourg ‘clearing house’ Clearstream, according to a report in The New York Times on Monday.

The assets had been frozen by a judge from Luxembourg on January 14, 2016. Luxembourg’s courts are expected to pronounce a further judgement on March 22, 2017. The judge has to rule on the legality of a possible seizure of the money belonging to the Iranian Central bank by the US.

On February 27, the lawyer of Iran’s Central Bank in Luxembourg, Fabio Trevisan, asked for a suspension of the seizure calling it “illegal”. “We’re asking for two legal texts to be applied that are very clear on this matter”, Trevisan added before court.

“Completely unfair and baseless”

“Some opponents of the Islamic republic of Iran… have tried to broaden a US domestic law — which is completely unfair and baseless — to apply outside America,” said deputy foreign minister Majid Takht Ravanchi, according to the IRNA news agency.

The Iranian central bank’s legal affairs director Ardeshir Fereydouni said Tehran’s assets cannot be touched before a verdict.

Quoted by IRNA, he also called the US efforts “against international law” and “unenforceable”.

Billions of dollars in frozen Iranian assets

Billions of dollars in Iranian assets were frozen in the US and Europe as part of efforts to push Tehran into a nuclear deal with world powers, which was finally signed in July 2015.

Some Iranian assets remain frozen despite the deal, in part due to ongoing compensation cases — not just for the 2001 attacks but also the bombing of US Marines barracks in Lebanon in 1983 that killed 241 Americans.

“Iran’s frozen money in Luxembourg belongs to the period before the (nuclear) negotiations and Iran’s (central bank) lawyers are engaged in consultations to obtain it,” Ravanchi said.

He said there had been no new developments in recent days.

Default judgements from various cases against Iran have so far added up to more than 50 billion dollars in compensation, although no money has yet been delivered.

The US Supreme Court ruled last year that 2.1 billion dollars frozen in a Citibank account in New York should be given to the US victims of the 1983 bombing — a verdict Iran is contesting at the International Court of Justice.

Luxembourg and Iran tightening relationship

Luxembourg has been tightening its relationship with Iran in the recent past, with Foreign Affairs Minister Asselborn visiting the Islamic Republic in 2014-15, while Parliament President Mars Di Bartolomeo travelled there in January 2016, and Economy Minister Etienne Schneider made his first visit to the country in October 2016.

Foreign Affairs Minister Asselborn returned to the country only recently to sign an agreement promising greater protection for investors in both countries.