The Trump administration is designating the head of Iran’s central bank as a terrorist and hitting him with sanctions intended to further isolate Iran from the global financial system.
The Treasury Department accuses Valiollah Seif of helping transfer millions of dollars to Hezbollah, the Iran-backed militant group.
Seif is the governor of the Iranian central bank. He is being named a “specially designated global terrorist”, along with another senior official, Ali Tarzali, who works in the central bank’s international division.
The global community must remain vigilant against Iran's deceptive efforts to provide financial support to its terrorist proxiesTreasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Seif “covertly funnelled” money from the Iran’s Revolutionary Guards through al-Bilad Islamic Bank in Iraq to help Hezbollah.
The Iraqi bank and its chairman is also being punished with sanctions.
The US says it is also imposing so-called secondary sanctions on Seif.
That means anyone who does business with him could be cut off from the US financial system.
The move comes as Donald Trump’s administration, after deeming the 2015 nuclear deal insufficiently tough on Iran, seeks to construct a global coalition to place enough pressure on Tehran that it comes back to the negotiating table to strike a “better deal”.
The sanctions targeting Iran’s central bank executives are some of the first actions by Mr Trump’s administration since pulling out of the deal to start ramping up that economic pressure.
“The United States will not permit Iran’s increasingly brazen abuse of the international financial system,” Mr Mnuchin said.
“The global community must remain vigilant against Iran’s deceptive efforts to provide financial support to its terrorist proxies.”
The exact ramifications of the sanctions for Iran’s economy were not immediately clear.
The US said that the sanctions did not extend to Iran’s central bank itself.
Still, the US said it was imposing so-called secondary sanctions on the Iranian bank officials, which could significantly increase Iran’s isolation from the global financial system.
Typically, when the US punishes individuals with sanctions, it prohibits Americans or US companies from doing business with them.
Secondary sanctions also apply to non-Americans and non-US companies. That means that anyone, in any country, who does business with Seif or Tarzali could themselves be punished with sanctions, cutting them off from the US financial system.
Seif, as the central bank’s governor, has helped guide Iran’s economy through the web of sanctions in place on that country.
In the aftermath of the 2015 deal, in which nuclear sanctions on Iran were lifted, he was a prominent voice complaining that Iran was still being kept out of the global financial system and not receiving the economic benefits it was promised in exchange for curtailing its nuclear programme.
The Treasury said that Seif undermined the central bank’s credibility by routing millions of dollars from the Quds Force, the expeditionary unit of Iran’s hard-line Revolutionary Guards, to al-Bilad Islamic Bank, which is based in Iraq.
Those funds were then used to “enrich and support the violent and radical agenda of Hezbollah”, the Treasury said.
Al-Bilad Islamic Bank and its chief executive and chairman, Aras Habib, were also hit with US sanctions, as was Muhammad Qasir, who the Treasury said is a Hezbollah official who has been a “critical conduit” for transferring funds to Hezbollah from the Revolutionary Guards.
Lebanon’s Hezbollah, the powerful Shiite guerrilla force that is also a prominent political player in Lebanon, has long helped carry out Iran’s foreign policy objectives in the Arabic-speaking world.
Most recently, the US has been concerned about the role that Hezbollah fighters are playing in Syria to help prop up President Bashar Assad.
Hezbollah fought a war with Israel in 2006, and Israeli officials have been deeply concerned about the prospect of another confrontation.