Japan bank freezes Iran accounts after court order

A Japanese bank has halted transactions by the Iranian government after a US court ordered a $2.6 billion asset freeze over the 1983 bombing of US barracks in Beirut, a bank spokesman said on Thursday.

"We have received the order from the US court," to freeze $2.6 billion of assets, a spokesman for the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ told AFP, declining to give details on the value of Iranian holdings at the bank.

The court order reflects "the amount that the court in 2007 upheld for compensation demands by families of victims of the 1983 attacks on US forces in Beirut," he said.

The bank lodged an appeal against the US court order on Thursday, Japan time, he said.

"One of the reasons for the appeal is that the US court has ordered a freeze on assets in accounts not only in the United States but also in Japan, which is problematic under Japanese law," the spokesman said.

"We cannot comment on how much or whose assets related to Iran are in the bank's accounts," he added, while admitting that the bank "handles a relatively large number of transactions for trade with Iran".

On October 23, 1983, a 19-tonne explosives-laden truck rammed through barricades and detonated in front of the US barracks in the Lebanese capital, killing 241 US troops.

As part of the same wave of attacks, a French barracks was also bombed, killing 58 French paratroopers.

Tehran has denied responsibility for the attacks, but Washington subsequently named Iran on a list of terrorism-supporting states.

A 2007 court ruling in the United States ordered Iran to pay $2.65 billion to victims' families.

Resource-hungry Japan, which relies heavily on the Middle East for its oil, came under pressure earlier this year to curb imports from Iran, with Washington seeking to squeeze Tehran over what it says is a nuclear weapons programme.

In exchange for a reduction in its dependence on Iranian oil, Tokyo won concessions that would exempt its financial institutions from sanctions on banks that do business with the central bank in Iran, which generally handles oil purchases.

With all of its nuclear reactors now offline in the wake of the March 2011 Fukushima disaster, Japan is heavily dependent on fossil fuels to make up an energy shortfall.

The United States said it was exempting 11 countries, including European Union members and Japan, from new punitive measures on Iran while praising them for reducing dependency on oil from the Middle Eastern country.

Data from Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry showed that Japan imported 36 percent less oil from Iran in March 2012 from a year earlier.

During the same period, Japan upped oil imports from other nations, with shipments from Saudi Arabia rising 14 percent, the data showed.

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