Bijan Zamanian complained to the Human Rights Commission after ANZ said it was shutting down its accounts for accessing internet banking services in Iran. Photo / Jason Oxenham
An Iranian-born Kiwi was shocked to learn that his bank accounts were closed because he logged into internet banking in violation of ANZ’s international sanctions policy while on vacation in Iran.
Although Auckland man Bijan Zamanian only transferred money between New Zealand accounts, ANZ maintains he broke the rules, exposing the bank to significant financial penalties.
Software engineer Spark, 40, says his treatment by the bank is “ridiculous” and unfair.
He claims that ANZ discriminated against him on the basis of his home country and he has filed complaints with ANZ, the banking ombudsman and the Human Rights Commission.
“It’s systemic discrimination.
“I am a New Zealand permanent resident and should be treated according to New Zealand rules.”
ANZ says all banks have internal policies to avoid international sanctions that can result from sanctions violations.
“ANZ’s sanctions policy applies to transactions involving sanctioned jurisdictions and applies to all ANZ customers, regardless of their country of origin.”
Zamanian arrived in New Zealand in 2017 and became a permanent resident in 2019.
He traveled to Iran for three weeks in December to visit his family. During the visit, he logged into ANZ’s online banking app to make payments to IRD, Gem Finance and to pay off his credit card balance and mortgage.
After returning to New Zealand, Zamanian said he received a call from ANZ saying his accounts were closed for transaction in Iran – a country banned under ANZ’s economic and trade sanctions policy.
Zamanian was asked to make future banking arrangements elsewhere and was told to pay off his credit card balance within 30 days, otherwise ANZ would initiate debt collection action.
Shocked by the bank’s stance, Zamanian complained to ANZ, saying his actions violated his human rights.
He said he does not reside in Iran and that the transactions in question had nothing to do with the Middle Eastern country other than an IP address.
He also argued that the sanctions policy had no legal weight and that there was no legal justification for closing his accounts.
In a “final position” letter to Zamanian last month, ANZ wrote:
“Since you were using ANZ Internet Banking in Iran, it meant you had the ability to transact in Iran, it was not a risk ANZ was willing to take.
“We don’t think we are violating the human rights of Iranians [sic]. Our policy prevents us from carrying out transactions that have a direct or indirect connection with Iran, regardless of who carries out those transactions. “
ANZ added that it could close any account or withdraw banking services at any time “without giving you a reason.”
Zamanian said the Herald ANZ’s sanctions policy was “one-sided and authoritarian” and unfairly targeted ordinary Iranian citizens.
He added that ANZ had allowed its mortgage accounts to remain open, which Zamanian called hypocritical and financially motivated.
“They want the money.”
In a statement, ANZ said it offered to keep Zamanian’s other accounts open if he signed a statement accepting the sanctions policy and agreeing “not to use ANZ’s online banking services in Iran,” which he refused to do.
The Human Rights Commission had now opened an investigation and ANZ was planning to start mediation on Zamanian’s complaint.
Massey University banking expert Professor David Tripe questioned whether it was reasonable to penalize someone for making transactions while in Iran.
“It would appear that their policy may go beyond a common sense application of international sanctions.”
Zamanian’s case follows that of Arsalan Abdollahi, whose accounts were closed by TSB Bank over fears he is considering transferring money from Iran.
Abdollahi says the TSB appears to have wrongly assessed him as being at risk of money laundering or international terrorist financing because of his ethnicity. He plans to sue the bank for damages.
The Human Rights Commission said ethnicity and national origin were prohibited grounds for discrimination under human rights law.
Anyone who believes they have been the victim of discrimination in accessing a service or facility can lodge a complaint with the Commission.
Banking ombudsman Nicola Sladden said banks were required to treat customers fairly, reasonably and in good faith, and had to have “good reasons” for closing a customer’s account.