SA's secret Iran deal
A veil of secrecy surrounds the shipping of 13 metric tons of South African gold to Iran. Iranian media last week announced the country had taken delivery of gold worth more than R6-billion that the South African government had been storing for more than two years. This was despite UN-backed sanctions on trade with Iran.Neither the Treasury nor the Reserve Bank would reveal the identity of the institution involved in the purchase.The 13 tons of gold were bought for Iran prior to the US State Department discussing the easing of asset sanctions against Iran in November 2013. Sanctions on Iranian gold assets were eased slightly in January 2014.In a statement released last week, the governor of the Central Bank of Iran, Valiollah Seif, confirmed that Iran had secured the release of that country's gold assets "blocked in South Africa under US-led sanctions"."The repatriation came thanks to the Iranian negotiation team's follow-up of the matter in the ongoing nuclear talks in Vienna."Iran is in negotiations with the P5+1 group - the US, UK, China, Russia, France and Germany - about its nuclear programme.Mining analyst Peter Major, of Cadiz Corporate Solutions, believes if the gold deal did occur, it might have been part of a larger sanctions-busting scheme involving oil deals for South Africa's benefit.Independent economist Azar Jammine said it was highly possible that South African financial institutions had had that amount of gold to sell."Such a deal would need the support and blessing of the Reserve Bank even if it was done by a private institution as the rules governing such trade are incredibly strict," he said."If the South African institution involved has international links then the US must take counteractive action against it."Jammine said the implication of a flouting of such regulations could be huge, especially for the economy and access to foreign markets."Five percent of South Africa's total trade is with the US. We export BMWs to the US through our access to the African Growth and Opportunities Act."It is highly possible the US could turn around and end our bilateral agreement with them, saying: 'Because you broke sanctions you cannot participate in AGOA. For South Africa that's roughly $50-billion in trade," Jammine said.Treasury spokesman Phumza Macanda said: "The gold transfer involved a South African institution and was concluded in terms of the joint plan of action agreed by Iran and the P5+1. The government was not party to the gold transfer."In a nearly identical statement, the South African Reserve Bank said it and the government were not party to the transfer.Asked about the exact date on which the gold was bought, whether the sale was concluded through an exchange for oil and whether a third party was involved in the transfer and sale, the Reserve Bank said it did not comment on individual banks.The spokesman for the Department of International Affairs and Co-operation, Clayson Monyela, said the gold transaction had nothing to do with the department."We don't deal in gold, we deal in foreign relations," Monyela said.But Professor Hennie Strydom, who holds the chair in international law at the National Research Foundation, said it was the obligation of the government to "prevent any transactions that might be perceived as being against the decision of the UN Security Council in terms of sanctions against Iran"."Even if a private entity or person is involved in the transaction, the state has an obligation to bring it to an end and investigate such transactions. We cannot just say that we were not involved."Strydom said South Africa could be hauled before the UN Security Council to explain.The Iranian Embassy in Pretoria confirmed the sale, but would not provide details.