The General Court today annulled the asset freeze imposed on the Iranian Bank Mellat, a bank part-owned by the Islamic Republic of Iran. Iranian banks have been a key target of international sanctions intended to put pressure on Iran to end its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.
The Bank was designated by the EU Council in July 2010, and re-designated numerous time since, on the basis that it had allegedly engaged in a pattern of conduct which supports and facilitates Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile programmes and had provided banking services to UN and EU designated entities in Iran. The Bank accepted that it had supplied services to Novin Energy, which had been subsequently designated by the UN, but denied that it supported Iran's nuclear programme in any way.
The Court first found that the Council had violated the Bank's procedural rights in a number of respects, including by giving reasons which were excessively vague and by failing to provide access to evidence. More importantly the Court held that the Bank had not provided support for Iran's nuclear programme including by virtue of its provision of services to Novin. In this respect it was critical that the Bank wound down its provision of services to Novin after Novin's designation by the UN. The Court took account of the requirements of Iranian law in gauging the implication of the speed and manner of the Bank's response.
The judgment is of particular interest because the Court rejected the Council's submission that the Bank should be classified as an emanation of the Iranian State and thus not allowed to invoke fundamental rights and freedoms (relying on Article 34 ECHR). The Court held that the Bank was not an emanation of the State but also went on to hold that EU law contained no rule preventing legal persons that are emanations of non-Member States from taking advantage of fundamental rights protection and guarantees. The Court also confirmed explicitly that the General Court's decision in Tay Za, to the effect that those sanctioned under measures intended to put pressure on third countries could not rely on the rights of defence (as opposed e.g. to those sanctioned on the basis that they are terrorists, who could), formed no part of the EU legal order.
The judgment is here.
Richard Blakeley acted for Bank Mellat, instructed by Zaiwalla and Co LLP.
David Anderson QC acted for the bank prior to his appointment as the Government's Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation.