Hong Kong to pass laws to seize Iran-linked assets

AFP, Wednesday 19 Jan 2011

assets of shipping companies linked to Iranian weapons programmes fall under sanctions against the Islamic republic

Hong Kong said Wednesday it was "striving" to pass legislation to comply with UN sanctions against Iran, after 20 shipping firms in the city were accused of being linked to Tehran's weapons buildup.

Last week, the US Treasury Department slapped sanctions on 24 shipping companies, including four in Britain's Isle of Man, accused of being fronts for Iranian businesses involved in Iran's missile programmes.

The firms are allegedly affiliated with the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL), which has been slapped with international sanctions.

Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous Chinese territory, is awaiting Beijing's final approval to usher in the changes, but China has said it would support the sanctions passed by the UN Security Council in June last year.

At present, Hong Kong cannot seize assets belonging to the IRISL-linked shipping companies without first obtaining a court order.

"We are preparing the necessary subsidiary legislation to... give effect to new sanctions against Iran," Hong Kong's government said in a statement Wednesday, adding it was "striving to complete the work as soon as possible."

The government did not immediately provide details about when it had last sought a court-issued warrant to seize assets.

James To, head of Hong Kong's Legislative Council security panel, said the new laws would be passed in the "very near future".

"The process should be very quick", he told AFP.

"I can see no problem with it all, given that China is a member of the UN Security Council".

The US has stepped up its efforts to isolate Iran-linked commercial entities tied to its military development programmes since the Security Council imposed a fourth set of sanctions against Iran in June 2010.

Observers have said firms dodging sanctions or engaging in other illicit activity often look to Hong Kong for cover given the ease of registering a business in the city, which is also a major shipping hub.

In November, Hong Kong authorities detained a cargo ship linked to IRISL over an alleged loan default with a group of European banks.

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