Bank of Hawaii has decided to reopen 17 Iranian customers’ accounts that were closed in December 2013 in response to the bank’s interpretation of U.S. sanctions against Iran.
The bank released a statement on March 11, saying that it had consulted with its technology providers and regulators, along with the advocacy group National Iranian American Council (NIAC), to come up with a solution.
“Areas where access will need to be restricted are banking-by-mail and transactions over the telephone. Access through debit cards, checks, ATMs and banking over the internet will be available while the customers are in the U.S.,” the bank said in the statement.
“Bank of Hawaii strongly values its relationship with our Iranian customers and with the Iranian-American community, and we regret any inconvenience this has caused.”
The bank closed the accounts, spurring an outcry from Iranian nationals who felt they were being wrongly discriminated against, as it tried to comply with federal sanctions on Tehran, particularly the one that states, “U.S. depository institutions, including foreign branches, are prohibited from servicing accounts of the Government of Iran, including banks owned or controlled by the Government of Iran … or persons in Iran.”
Last month, Jamal Abdi of the Iranian-American council sent a letter to the bank in protest. “We strongly urge for Bank of Hawaii to reverse this discriminatory action and to ensure its policies do not violate constitutional and legal protections for U.S. persons.”
The bank says the closures affected customers who listed their primary residence in Iran but who reside in the United States; mainly students in Hawaii on visas and others with green cards. The terminations were not due to transactions that were linked to Iran, but based solely on their Iranian citizenship.
“While broad sanctions have created significant compliance issues for banks and private companies, it is critical that these policies do not negate the basic rights and protections afforded to Iranian citizens in the United States.”
Hamid Pourjalali, a professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, knows people who had their accounts closed.
“Although it was not appropriate that the bank closed these accounts and should have addressed its concerns about U.S. sanctions differently, I am pleased that they have addressed the issue now,” he said.
The bank says it will contact the 17 customers about reopening their bank accounts within the next week or so.