Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Sanctions: Another Real Live Episode

A European national living in Iran wrote to me again with their newest story about how U.S. sanctions is affecting life in the Middle East. The European national told me they had recently transferred a sum of money in U.S. dollars from their European bank account last month to a friend’s bank account in the Middle East with the message “deposit for Ali.” All U.S. dollar transactions, even for $1, must be cleared by a bank in the U.S. Ever since 9/11, these clearances have been subjected to more severe scrutiny, presumably in order to combat and trace the roots of terrorism.

The money left the account of the European national but was never received in the friend’s account. About a week ago, the European bank contacted the European national who initiated the transaction to say that the money was being blocked in the U.S. The reason? The name “Ali” is suspicious for the U.S. clearing system. The problem was resolved after the European national provided general personal information on the said friend.

With “Ali” just about as common as “Tom, Dick or Harry”, just imagine the number of people who have had a similar experience. This newest episode provides a small insight into how difficult it must be for anyone named Ali or any other Muslim or “suspicious” name to conduct transactions in U.S. Dollars ever since the anti-terror guidelines (and not just in the banking sector) were enacted.

According to the European national, the European bank did “apologize profusely and sought to distance themselves from ‘crazy U.S. policy.’”

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