* Russia had accused JPMorgan of illegally blocking payment
* Payment was destined for Sogaz, part-owned by sanctioned
* Rules on entites part-owned by sanctioned entities can be
* JP Morgan says now processing payment
(Adds background about JPMorgan's operations in Russia, Sogaz
By Megan Davies
MOSCOW, April 3 JP Morgan Chase & Co is
processing a payment from Russia's embassy in Kazakhstan to
insurance agency Sogaz, easing tension after Moscow accused the
U.S. bank of illegally blocking the transaction under the
pretext of sanctions.
Russia's Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday the "unacceptable,
illegal and absurd" act of blocking the payment would have
consequences for the U.S. Embassy in Russia.
The confrontation threatened to further strain ties between
Washington and Moscow, locked in the worst standoff since the
Cold War over Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region.
"Following consultation with our regulators, we are
processing this transaction," JPMorgan said in a statement.
Last month, Washington imposed sanctions, including visa
bans and asset freezes, against several Russians close to
President Vladimir Putin and against Rossiya Bank, which it said
was the "personal bank" for the leader's inner circle.
The destination for the embassy payment was insurance agency
Sogaz, which is 48.5 percent owned by Abros, a wholly-owned
subsidiary of Bank Rossiya.
Industry consultants in Moscow say financial institutions
are unclear about how to apply the new rules in some situations,
such as when dealing with subsidiaries of companies which have
either been sanctioned or which have shareholders that have been
Several Western investors and their banks are facing
quandaries over individual situations. [ID nL5N0MU46P]
Guidelines on the U.S. Treasury department's website from
the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control says that property
which is more than 50 percent owned by a person on the sanctions
blacklist is affected and advises acting "with caution" when
ownership interests are less than 50 percent.
"It is up to private companies and lawyers to figure out who
is subject to sanctions," said one Moscow-based lawyer. "Of
course (a U.S. bank) is more scared of the American (authorities
than the Russian ones)."
Falling foul of U.S. authorities can be extremely costly.
BNP Paribas, France's biggest listed bank, in
Feburay set aside $1.1 billion for a possible fine for breaching
U.S. sanctions on countries including Iran.
Sogaz said in a statement last month that Abros had
decreased its shareholding to 48.5 percent, but did not specify
the shareholding level prior to the decrease.
"Sogaz doesn't have any shareholders holding more then 50
percent of the company shares directly or indirectly, so we see
no reason for Sogaz to be included in the U.S. sanctions," a
Sogaz representative said in emailed comment late on Wednesday.
The confusion around sanctions caused Visa and
Mastercard to briefly cut off services for clients at
Russia's SMP bank, whose main shareholders were affected by U.S.
sanctions, before resuming them shortly after.
Russia's accusation could damage relations the bank has with
the Russian authorities. JPMorgan generated $55.6 million in
investment banking fees in Russia last year, with a 7 percent
market share, according to Thomson Reuters data. Worldwide,
JPMorgan recorded $6.4 billion in investment banking fees last
year, according to the company's annual report.
JPMorgan is the biggest U.S. bank by assets and for its
size it does relatively little lending in Russia. At year-end,
its loans and trading positions at risk to Russia totalled $5.4
billion compared with the company's total assets of $2.4
JPMorgan is one of a number of Western banks operating in
Russia. Others which have a presence here include Goldman Sachs
, Bank of America, Citigroup and Morgan
(Additional reporting by Alexei Anishchuk; Editing by Maria
Kiselyova, Elizabeth Piper and Angus MacSwan)