Iran, which could face U.N. economic sanctions over its atomic program, has started to transfer assets held in foreign accounts, the central bank governor was quoted as saying yesterday.
"We transfer foreign reserves to wherever we see as expedient. On this issue, we have started transferring. We are doing that," Ebrahim Sheibani told the ISNA students' news agency when asked about the need to move Iran's holdings.
ISNA specifically asked whether the money was being moved to Asian accounts but Sheibani's answer sidestepped whether the assets would head east.
Sheibani told reporters earlier this week that Iran stood ready to repatriate the money it held abroad should this prove necessary.
Iran has bitter memories of its U.S. assets being frozen shortly after the 1979 Islamic revolution.
ISNA's question appeared to be based on an article in the London-based Asharq al-Awsat Arabic daily that said Iran's Supreme National Security Council had ordered foreign holdings be shifted to Asia.
Iran is the fourth biggest oil exporter in the world and the second largest in the organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. Eighty percent of its export earnings come from oil, the price of which has soared over the past two years.
Economists estimate Iran will have earned more than US$40 billion in oil revenues by the end of the year to March 2006. Of this, US$16 billion goes straight to budgeted government spending.
The rest goes to the Central Bank of Iran which keeps an unknown amount of holdings in foreign accounts.
The Naftiran Intertrade Company, the powerful trade and financing arm of the National Iranian Oil Company, is based in Switzerland.