Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Zurich bank cuts Cuba's last Swiss franc channel

Zurich bank cuts Cuba's last Swiss franc channel
Published: 16 Apr 2013 21:07 GMT+02:00

Zurich's cantonal bank is halting all transfers to Cuba starting next
month to avoid activities deemed in violation of a US embargo on the
communist-ruled island.

"Starting on May 1, the Zürcher Kantonalbank will cut all business
relations with Cuba," the bank said on Tuesday in an email sent to AFP,
confirming Swiss news reports.

"The bank is part of an international network and must respect
international economic embargoes and restriction lists," it explained.

Bank spokeswoman Evelyne Brönnimann told AFP that new rules meant ZKB
must now attest to its banking partners in the United States that its
activities are in line with the US Office of Foreign Asset Control
(OFAC) rules.

"If this is not the case, the United States can take actions against the
banks like freezing their holdings," the bank statement said.

A number of international banks have been slapped with
multi-million-dollar fines in the past year for flouting US sanctions on
Cuba, as well for transactions with Iran, Libya, Myanmar and Sudan.

The bank said its decision would impact 12 clients, but did not provide
details on who they were.

The head of the Swiss-Cuban Chamber of Commerce, Andreas Winkler,
however, told AFP the move would especially affect small and
medium-sized Swiss companies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs)
that dealt with Cuba.

Winkler harshly criticised ZKB's decision, lamenting that the bank was
removing the only banking channel operating in Swiss francs.

"Now operations will need to go through European banks that operate in
euros," he said, pointing out that the extra exchange process would end
up costing businesses more money.

He also questioned whether ZKB was actually required to cut business
ties with Cuba under the OFAC rules, since it is not a US bank, or
whether it was just playing it safe.

Washington has faced international criticism since it imposed its
embargo on Cuba more than five decades ago.


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