Iran and the Islamic Finance Crown

The Iranian banking industry remains completely regulated by sharia law and is by far the world’s largest center of Islamic banking. Yet its experience is unique within the global Islamic community, as it is inspired by Shia jurisprudence, which often diverges from mainstream Sunni jurisprudence. Sunni scholars have repeatedly questioned the “rightfulness” of Iranian banks. However, with Iran now seemingly closer than ever to an agreement with the West over its controversial nuclear development program, local financial institutions are poised to regain access to international markets and place their sharia-compliant products among emerging market enthusiasts. Yet instead of adding new momentum to the growing Islamic finance industry, Iran’s financial comeback risks opening a new chapter in the century-old clash of principles between Sunni and Shia Islam.

The downside of Iranian banking

Iran may be about to restore banking links with the rest of the world after years of separation, but the process won't be easy. The Iranian banks' shaky finances and close ties with their government will increase the risks of dealing with them. And during their years of isolation, they have developed a version of Islamic finance that is in some ways markedly different from that practiced in other Muslim-majority states. The differences may make it hard for foreign banks, even ones from other big Islamic banking markets in the Gulf and southeast Asia, to do business in Iran. Major issues are the trading of debt and use of derivatives — these are two very complicated issues in any Islamic financial system, and in Iran we have very different approaches.

Iran’s isolated banks may have slow, painful return to global system

Iran may be about to restore banking links with the rest of the world after years of separation, but the process won’t be easy as its Islamic financial system has evolved in ways that will complicate ties with foreign banks. Smothered in bad debt and shut out of the global system by sanctions, Iranian banks badly need to resume business with foreign lenders, for whom this would be a huge opportunity. Iran’s Islamic banking assets totalled 17,344 trillion riyals as of March 2014, or $523 billion at the free market exchange rate. But the Iranian banks’ shaky finances and close ties with their government will increase the risks of dealing with them. And during their years of isolation, they have developed a version of Islamic finance that is in some ways markedly different from that practiced in other Muslim-majority states.

Tehran stock exchange prepares for flood of foreign investment

The government of Hassan Rouhani, Iran's centrist president, has made attracting foreign investment a priority since taking office as he seeks to create jobs and bring down a youth unemployment rate that stands at 25 per cent, as well as stave off any Arab spring style unrest.

Iranian Companies Plan Sukuk Sales

About 180 companies are considering Islamic bond sales in 2016 after a decade of international sanctions, according to Hossein Saeedi, a senior financial analyst at the corporate finance division of Tehran-based Amin Investment Bank. The companies have already started planning to design specific financial instruments to attract foreign investors to come to the Iranian market, Saeedi said. If the sanctions are lifted, they are looking for aggressive sukuk financing. Iran is home to the world’s biggest Islamic banking industry but market instability and currency fluctuation have been among the impediments to growth.

Malaysia and Saudi facing Iran’s rising finance power

With the easing of economic sanctions against Iran, the country is expected to unleash its enormous potential of Islamic finance and enter the global stage with new Shariah-compliant products at a size that could threaten the dominance of Malaysia and Saudi Arabia in the sector. Iranian banks represent the world’s largest financial system based on Shariah law. However, due to the sanctions, the country has so far only marginally participated in the global Islamic finance sector and thus did not benefit from the rapid global growth of Islamic finance in the recent past. The entire banking system in Iran is Shariah-compliant, and there are no conventional banks to compete with.

Iranian banks on shaky ground

The Central Bank of Iran (CBI) and CEOs of commercial banks reached an agreement that the institutions should not offer a deposit rate of more than 22%. The CBI has focused on restricting the monetary base and raising profit rates on participatory loans to curb inflation over the past 18 months. The policy has been a successful attempt as inflation dropped from 34.7% in the year up to March 20, 2013, to 15.8% in the year up to Feb. 20, 2015. However, Abbas Kamrei, a board member of Bank Melli, the largest state-run commercial bank, criticized CBI's interest rate policy as incorrect. He urged CBI officials to take into account the public expectations from banks.

Iranian bank sues UK government for $4 billion over sanctions

Iran's Bank Mellat is suing the British government for almost $4 billion in damages after the Supreme Court quashed sanctions imposed against it over alleged links to Tehran's nuclear programme. The lender wants compensation for the "significant pecuniary loss" and substantial reputational damage it sustained as a result of sanctions imposed in 2009, according to a claim filed in London's High Court. It claims the UK government also successfully lobbied other authorities to impose their own sanctions that ultimately caused and continue to cause the loss of profitable business, customers, banking relationships and dealing services.

Minister urges Islamic Solidarity Fund to help remove poverty

Minister of Economic and Finance Ali Tayebnia called for cooperation of the Islamic Solidarity Fund to remove poverty and unemployment in OIC member states. He made the remarks in the 30th session of the OIC Standing Committee on Economic and Commercial Cooperation General Assembly held in Istanbul, Turkey on November 27. Tayebnia said that OIC member states are facing structural labor market challenges such as low rate of women economic participation, high rate of unemployment among young adults, low rate of efficiency and ability to compete and in this concern an initiative job creation could be as a solution.

Iranian banks give 83% more loans in current year

Iranian banks gave 1,463 trillion rials (some $45.7 billion based on the exchange rate of US dollar at the free market) worth of loans in the first half of the current Iranian calendar year. However, a great portion of the bank's loans are bad loans. Iran's Melli Bank, Parsian Bank and Tejarat Bank have the highest amount of bad loans in Iran. Of the total 870 trillion rials (about $28 billion) in bad loans, Melli Bank's share is 130 trillion rials (about $4.2 billion), Parsian and Tejarat banks' shares is 110 trillion rials each (about $3.5 billion).

EU Sanctions lifted - Iranian Bank seeks indemnity

Kourosh Parvizian, the governor of Sina Bank, welcomes the move of the British Treasury's to repeal of an asset freeze on the bank. It says that other European countries are expected to make the same decision, according to Iran's IRNA news agency.

Iran banks pressed to retreat from asset speculation

Iran has eight state-run and 19 “privately owned” banks – although these are frequently subject to interference from the state, with their shares bought by entities affiliated to power centres, which then influence banking policies and exploit funds - all of which have invested heavily in the ownership and management of commercial entities outside the banking sector. The central bank, state-run Bank Melli and privately owned banks of Ansar, Saderat, Mellat, Pasargad and Parsian refused to comment. Pasargad and Parsian are considered the leading private banks in non-banking operations.

Treasury hits Iran with new, wide-ranging sanctions

The Obama administration unveiled a host of new sanctions Friday against more than 30 companies and individuals doing business in or with Iran, seeking to thwart that nation’s nuclear ambitions, its support for organizations the United States deems as terrorist groups and mute its support for the embattled regime of Syrian leader Bashar Assad. The sanctions come at a period where the United States needs Iran’s help in trying to defeat the Islamic State (ISIS). Friday’s additions to the list include more banks, providers of equipment to Iran’s state oil company, banks that help to funnel U.S. currency to Iran’s central bank and transport-related businesses that have helped the Syrian and Iranian governments.

Sharia trial of Iranian billionaire:

An Iranian trial and execution raised questions about corruption at high levels in various countries. Reports said that Mahafarid Amir Khosravi, a billionaire businessman was executed in a prison, North of Tehran for being involved in a $2.6 billion state bank scam, the largest fraud case since 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. The public in America, Britain and other European countries reacted with surprisingly many comments on social media platform. They wish such a harsh punishment for their nations in order to deal with corruption amongst politician and businessmen.

Iran hangs man convicted of $2.6 billion bank scam

Iranian businessman Mahafarid Amir Khosravi, convicted of masterminding a $2.6 billion banking scam, was hanged on Saturday in Tehran''s Evin prison. He was sentenced to death after being convicted of corruption on earth through bribery and money laundering. Revelations about the scandal swept Iran in 2011 when prosecutors uncovered a private umbrella group, led by Amir Khosravi and his brothers. Over the space of two years, Amir Mansour Aria Development Co bought 40 companies with forged letters of credit obtained from several major banks whose managers they had bribed. In addition to Amir Khosravi, three others have reportedly been sentenced to death.

14 Iranian banks involved in $3-billion embezzlement case

14 Iranian banks are involved in the famous 2011 $3-billion embezzlement case. Iran's prosecutor general Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei said that state-run Bank Saderat and Bank Melli were the main banks involved in the case. The prosecutor general went on to say that seven MPs who were accused of involvement in the case acquitted due to lack of evidences. Thirty-nine persons were accused of involvement in the case, and several high-ranking officials including certain persons in judiciary, parliament and presidential administration were persecuted or arrested. In addition to death and life sentences, some defendants banned from government jobs.

Bank Mellat files application for a judicial review against the UK Government

Iran's Bank Mellat filed an application for a judicial review against the UK Government in the Administrative Court on 16 April 2014. In its final ruling last June, the UK Supreme Court found that by imposing domestic sanctions against Bank Mellat, the UK Government acted both “unlawfully and irrationally”. Following the UK Supreme Court decision, Bank Mellat had asked the UK Government to withdraw its 2010 listing proposal to the EU Council. It was hoped that this may have been sufficient to convince the EU Council to give up on its own sanctions against the bank. However, the UK Government has refused to withdraw the proposal. The UK Government has also now applied for permission to intervene in support of the EU Council’s appeal against the first European Court decision.

Iranian bad debt probe finds silver lining

A move by Iran to recover bad debts on behalf of banks has shed light on possible corrupt lending under the country’s previous president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. President Hassan Rouhani’s administration, in power for nine months, says bad debt in the banking system has reached a “critical” level – 15.6 percent. The authorities this week have handed the names of 575 of the biggest defaulters to the judiciary to try and recover some of the $33 billion owed. The list has not released but some believe the bulk may have been borrowed by as few as 100 people and firms. The bad debt may hamper Rouhani’s plans to boost employment and raise living standards. However, analysts also see positives in the new openness on the debt problem and moves to fix it.

Iran has its eyes set on Turkish banks

The Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency (BDDK) approved expansion requests from Bank Mellat last month in light of the U.S. and the UN Security Council loosening economic sanctions. Afterwards, applications from the Iranian banks Pasargad and Tejarat to set up shop in Turkey were approved by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Bank Mellat has operated in Turkey through its three branches in Izmir, Istanbul and Ankara. Turkey and Iran have reportedly come to an agreement allowing an increase in banking transactions between the two countries. Earlier this year, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan made a visit to Iran aimed at strengthening economic ties between the neighboring countries.

Iranian official confirms execution for bank fraud to proceed

Iran's Chief Auditor Nasser Seraj announced that there is no truth to rumours that a death sentence issued in the so-called $3-billion fraud case will be withdrawn. Seraj indicated that the authorities are continuing to trace the assets of Amir Khosravi, adding that the investigation is proceeding well. The case came to light in 2011, and 39 defendants were accused of using forced documents to obtain credit from banks to buy state-owned companies. Four people were sentenced to death for the charge of "corruption on earth" including Amir Khosravi, and others were sentenced to prison terms of up to 25 years. Mohammad Reza Khavari was the CEO of the country's largest bank, Melli Bank, and he remains a major suspect in this case, having fled to Canada as soon as the investigation became public.

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