(Adds Treasury Department comments, background)
WASHINGTON May 8 The United States on Thursday
for the first time imposed sanctions on a Russian bank for its
dealings with the Syrian government, which has been engaged in a
three-year civil war with opposition forces.
The U.S. Treasury, which so far had resisted pressure from
lawmakers to sanction Russian banks over Syria dealings, put
Tempbank, a small Moscow-based bank, on its list of sanctioned
entities. This effectively cut the bank off from the U.S.
The Treasury also imposed sanctions on bank official Mikhail
Gagloev as well as six Syrian government officials and two
Syrian refinery companies, Banias and Homs.
The Treasury said Tempbank provided money and financial
services to Assad's government. At one point, Tempbank delivered
millions of dollars in cash to Moscow's Vnukovo Airport so cash
couriers working for Syria's central bank could pick it up.
Tempbank also provided services to Syria's Sytrol, a state oil
company that is already sanctioned by the United States and the
European Union, according to the Treasury.
Reuters also reported last October that the Commercial Bank
of Syria opened accounts in Tempbank and was in talks with the
bank to expand ties.
Tempbank has ties to financial markets in China, Europe and
the United States, using Austria's Raiffeisen Bank as
well as Russia's biggest state-owned banks Sberbank
and a foreign office of VTB as intermediary banks, according to
information on the bank's website.
Tempbank could not be immediately reached for comment after
normal business hours in Moscow.
The sanctions come as the conflict in Ukraine has brought
U.S.-Russian relations to their post-Cold War nadir. Syria's
President Bashar al-Assad has been using Russian banks to access
world markets, but the U.S. government had been resisting
pressure from some lawmakers to place sanctions on the banks.
"Today's designation builds on Treasury's ongoing efforts to
apply economic pressure on the Syrian government by choking off
access to the international financial system," said David
Cohen, Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial
Intelligence. "We ... will continue to aggressively target
individuals and entities supporting the Assad regime."
Last year, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal urged sanctions
against Russian banks, which he said were helping to finance the
Syrian government's war against rebel groups.
The United States said it has put sanctions on nearly 200
people and companies since the start of the Syrian civil war,
which has killed more than 150,000 people and displaced millions
of others. Russia, also one of Assad's biggest arms suppliers,
has vetoed a number of U.N. Security Council resolutions
condemning the Syrian leader.
(Reporting by Anna Yukhananov; Editing by Chris Reese and David