Cuba’s permanent mission to the UN has denounced the sanctions imposed by the USA after the Co-operative Bank closed the accounts of the British Cuba Solidarity Campaign.
In a press statement, Cuban officials say the Bank’s chief executive, Niall Booker, had confirmed in writing to customers that the closure was the result of the risk arising from US sanctions imposed on Cuba.
According to the Morning Star, Mr Booker told customers that “by adhering to US sanctions the Co-operative Bank is complying with US extraterritorial legislation”.
Last year, the Co-operative Bank also closed the accounts of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, along with 20 other organisations working for Palestine.
At the time, the Bank said it was not a “reflection” on the work of the organisations but added: “We have to perform due diligence on our customers, their accounts and the payments they make to ensure the Bank complies with anti-money laundering obligations and to manage the Bank’s risk.
“For customers who operate in, or send money to, any very high risk or high risk locations throughout the world, advanced due diligence checks are required by all banks to ensure that funds do not inadvertently fund illegal or other proscribed activities.”
While President Obama has removed Cuba from the state sponsors of terror list, the embargo imposed by the congress still prohibits most investment and financial transactions on Cuba.
“The changes to the blockade regulation during 2015 and 2016 are positive, but limited because they do not change some essential practical aspects of this policy,” says Cuba’s permanent mission to the UN.
The USA has the ability to exercise authority beyond its normal boundaries by applying sanctions on banks doing business with Cuba. A number of banks have closed accounts due to sanctions imposed on the island by the US. In October 2015, France’s Crédit Agricole, a network of co-operative and mutual banks, agreed to pay US authorities USD $787m (£536m) to settle charges that it broke US sanctions in Iran and other countries, including Cuba.
During his visit to Cuba in April, the UK’s foreign secretary Philip Hammond said the government saw opportunities for Britain to do business in Cuba, particularly in finance, tourism and renewable energy. He told Reuters that the US trade embargo remained a challenge but that the UK government had been in discussions with the USA to address these barriers.
Save Our Bank, a campaign that was launched in 2013 to hold the bank to account on its ethical promises, has been active on the issue of Cuban and Palestinian accounts.
Shaun Fensom, one of the campaign’s backers, said: “We accept that there is very considerable pressure on all the banks to make sure that money transferred to ‘high risk’ locations does not end up funding illegal activities. We are concerned about the very considerable impact this is having on human rights work. We welcome the policy adopted by Amnesty International UK recently to press government on this matter as well as the Co-operative Bank.
“We believe that to maintain its leading position as an ethical provider, the Co-operative Bank needs to take careful account of the impact on the work of legitimate human rights groups when undertaking risk assessments, with a view to supporting the work where possible. It also needs to take care to apply consistent and transparent standards in its evaluation of ‘high risk areas’ and be ready to take a courageous stand.
“In this respect, the statement by Cuba’s permanent mission is very relevant. We have raised this directly with the Bank and they are looking into it.”