Energy giants slammed over Iranian gas

ADL blasts companies for "hindering the effort to isolate Iran" in sponsoring Iranian gas conference.

Royal Dutch Shell 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Royal Dutch Shell 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
The US-based Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Austrian political organization Stop the Bomb have sharply criticized European energy giants OMV in Austria and Royal Dutch Shell over their sponsorship of the 2nd Iranian Gas Export Conference to be held on October 4 and 5 in Teheran. The ADL blasted the oil and gas companies for "hindering the effort to isolate Iran." Simone Dinah Hartmann, a spokeswoman for the nonpartisan activist coalition Stop the Bomb in Vienna, said "The Austrian multinational corporation obviously does not only want to keep the Iranian dictatorship alive with its planned multi-billion deal, but is also now directly financing economic promotion activities of the Iranian terror regime." The organization Stop the Bomb is demanding that OMV, the biggest oil operator in Central Europe, rescind its €22 billion deal with Iran to develop the South Par gas field. The group argues that OMV, a partially state-owned enterprise, is endangering international security by refusing to isolate Iran commercially. Iran has ignored the European Union (EU) and United Nations Security Council (UN) sanctions to end its nuclear program that can be used to make weapons. Critics charge the Austrian government, which owns 31.5 percent of OMV, with shirking its responsibility for ending OMV's gas contract with Teheran, and failing to bolster the international effort to penalize Iran's recalcitrant behavior. While Stefan Hirsch, the spokesman for Austrian Social Democratic Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer, conceded to The Jerusalem Post that OMV's "principal owner is the Austrian state," he deferred media queries regarding the gas conference to the OMV. When questioned on whether the sponsorship of the conference undercuts the EU and UN plan to curb business ties with the Iranian regime, he declined to comment. OMV is listed as a "silver sponsor" of the gas conference and OMV spokesman Thomas Huemer told the Post that "the OMV is a €15,000 sponsor," adding that UN and EU sanctions do not prohibit OMV from pursuing oil and gas activity in Iran. OMV's support for the gas conference in Teheran prompted the Israeli embassy "to call the Austrian Foreign Ministry, seeking more information" about OMV's activity at the conference, an embassy spokesman in Vienna told the Post. An Iranian organizer of the Gas Export Conference in Teheran said that OMV and other sponsors would be provided with a stand at the exhibit and the OMV logo will be "everywhere," blanketing airports and hotels. According to the Iranian conference organizer, Shell - as a "bronze sponsor" of the event - paid €7,000. According to the events manager, the conference is tax-free for sponsors. A Shell spokesman declined to comment regarding the company's promotional fee. While refusing to answer the question of whether the close economic cooperation with Iran contradicted Shell's commitment to honoring human rights, the spokesman told the Post that "[Shell] continues to do preparatory work on the Persian liquid natural gas project. We have taken no decision yet on whether to proceed. Any decision is fundamentally driven by the need to get preparation work right. When we come to take a final decision, we will take political considerations into account." The ADL, however, views OMV and Shell's activity in Iran as violating their corporate human rights pledge. "OMV claims to be 'guided by its higher standards' in its corporate Social Responsibility statement and 'regards human rights as universal values,' while one of Shell's business principles is 'to support fundamental human rights in line with the legitimate role of business.' "Yet these two companies are co-sponsoring a conference by the state-owned energy company of the leading state-sponsor of terrorism and human rights violations. By promoting one of Iran's strategic industries, natural gas, OMV and Shell are hindering the effort of responsible states and corporations to isolate Iran," said Abraham H. Foxman, National Director, and Glen S. Lewy, National Chair, in a joint statement. Raimund Fastenbauer, general-secretary of the Austrian Jewish Community, told the Post that "the community has made it clear months ago that we are opposed to all trade with Iran." The Post investigation of the gas conference revealed that the Deutsche Bank and the Dresdner Bank, two German Banks who pulled out of in Iran in October 2007, are listed as "correspondent banks" on the registration form for the fee covering conference attendance in Teheran. According to media reports, the US Treasury Department pressure forced the German banks to sever financial transactions with Iran. Ronald Weichter, a Deutsche Bank spokesman, told the Post that the Deutsche Bank conducted no "business relationship with Iranian clients." The gas conference registration form lists the FBME bank in Cyprus as the beneficiary bank. Asked if the Cyprus bank was a client of the Deutsche Bank, he declined to comment. Weichert said that the Deutsche Bank "has accounts in the US, Israel and Cyprus." Weichter stressed that the Deutsche Bank "cannot influence the accounts" of its customer base regarding financial transactions with Iran. Asked about the registration fee transfer, Thomas Bonk, a Dresdner Bank spokesman, told the Post that the "technology does not allow" for a money transfer to take place and said there had been "a misuse of our account" for the conference. He added that bank specialists would be activated in response to tampering with Dresdner account numbers. "[In light of] considerable operational risks, the Dresdner Bank has decided to withdraw completely from business with Iran, into Iran, and inside Iran," said Bonk, adding, however, that not all accounts have been discontinued with Iranians. He said those accounts "do not involve direct business with Iran."