The curious case of JPMorgan and the $9 Iran trade

By:
Chris Wright
Published on:

When Iran Air needed some Boeing spare parts before sanctions were lifted, JPMorgan took the US side of the trade. Why and how?

US banks are as far from re-engagement with Iran as they have ever been, but Euromoney has learned that one of the biggest names in American finance was financing trade even under the sanctions regime: JPMorgan.

It did so – legally, under special licence from the US Treasury – as part of Boeing’s licence to sell spare parts to Iran Air, granted in April 2014. The Boeing deal, which followed an interim agreement between world powers and Iran on Iran's nuclear programme the previous November, permitted Boeing to sell "spare parts that are for safety purposes" to Iran "for a limited period of time".

Parsian Bank was at the Iranian end of the trade; JPMorgan was on the US side, with transactions going through Halkbank in Turkey. "It was not huge amounts," says Ali Reza Alaei, head of international at Parsian in Tehran. "It was for a small number of spare parts, maybe the equivalent of €60,000 to €100,000 in dollars."

Boeing’s third-quarter report for 2015 refers specifically to sales of "aircraft manuals, drawings and navigation charts and data to Iran Air", generating $120,000 in revenue and $12,000 in gross profits.

Boeing spokesman Fakher Daghestani in Dubai declined to comment on banking arrangements, but told Euromoney: "Transactions with the airline in Iran have been very limited, mostly manuals, service bulletins and charts. Only one part has been purchased under our current limited licence for safety-of-flight purposes."

Nevertheless, JPMorgan’s presence on the trade is intriguing: the fees involved would be minuscule, and even with US approval there was the risk of negative publicity for any dealings with Iran during the sanctions regime.

This raises the possibility that the bank was instructed to work on the trade by the US Treasury itself. JPMorgan declined to comment, but it is thought its role on the transaction came about via a request from Boeing.

Iran has appeared on JPMorgan’s disclosures during the sanctions period, but for a truly tiny amount. In its Form 10-K for 2014, a regulatory disclosure to the Securities and Exchange Commission, the bank says it processed one payment from Iran Air on behalf of a US client, "authorized by and conducted pursuant to a licence from the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control".

JPMorgan charged a fee of $3.50 for the transaction; then Iran Air apparently overpaid the US client, whereupon JPMorgan transferred the overpayment back to Iran Air in the fourth quarter of 2014, charging a $5.50 fee for that transfer.

If this filing is the full extent of JPMorgan’s involvement in the Boeing deal, it made $9 out of it. JPMorgan’s 2015 net income was $24.4 billion.