* West fears Turkey is financial gateway for Iran
* Minister says Turkish firms abide by UN sanctions
ANKARA, Sept 21 (Reuters) - A senior Turkish minister said on Tuesday that no Turkish banks or companies were in violation of United Nations sanctions imposed on Iran over its disputed nuclear programme.
Trade Minister Zafer Caglayan was reacting to a Reuters story that said Turkey and other U.S. allies have been allowing Iranian banks with suspected links to Tehran’s atomic programme to do business within their borders, frustrating Western countries trying to financially squeeze the Islamic Republic.
(To see the full special report, click here: link.reuters.com/dyd64p)
“As it stands, none of our banks, none of our companies, have done anything to break the embargo (sanctions) on Iran,” Caglayan said in an interview with private broadcaster NTV when asked about the Reuters special report.
Turkey is obligated to implement the UN measures, but not to restrict activities of Iranian banks hit by sanctions imposed separately by the United States and the European Union.
While Turkey is not compelled to abide by non-UN sanctions, those banks or firms that do business with Iranian companies blacklisted by Washington could face U.S. penalties.
Turkey, a candidate for EU membership, has enjoyed growing economic and financial relations with neighboring fellow Muslim Iran.
Western diplomats are concerned that if Turkey becomes a virtual safe haven for Iranian banking activities, it will be easier for Tehran to dodge sanctions.
An intelligence report on Turkey and Iran provided to Reuters by a diplomat said: “Turkey’s blossoming financial-economic relationship with Iran provides Iran with a gateway to the entire European financial system.”
“The fact that Turkey is allowing itself to be used as a conduit for Iranian activity via Turkish banks and the Turkish lira is making it possible for Iranian funds in Turkish guise to make their way into Europe.”
A Turkish diplomat denied suggestions that Iran’s nuclear programme is being financed via Turkey’s banking system.
“The Turkish banking system, which was not affected by the crisis, is extremely transparent and is tightly monitored by the BDDK, an independent body,” the diplomat told Reuters, referring to Turkey’s banking watchdog.
“It is indeed impossible that the banking system finances the Iranian nuclear programme. At the same time, Turkey has no such intention and no such practice.”
The Unites States and the EU have blacklisted Bank Mellat, Iran’s second largest bank. The bank operates branches in the Turkish cities of Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir.
Turkey’s trade, finance and economy ministries as well as individual banks had originally refused to comment for the Reuters special report, which was published on Monday. (Additional reporting by Orhan Coskun; Writing by Ibon Villelabeitia; Editing by Claudia Parsons)