Iran used two of the largest banks in the United Kingdom, Lloyds and Santander UK, for moving money covertly around the world, the Financial Times has revealed. This is a maneuver included in a plan to evade economic sanctions backed by Tehran’s intelligence services. Lloyds and Santander UK provided accounts to British shell companies that secretly belonged to an Iranian petrochemical company, the Petrochemical Commercial Company, which operated from a headquarters near Buckingham Palace. This company is controlled by Tehran and was part of a network that the United States accuses of raising hundreds of millions of dollars for the Quds Force, a division specialized in asymmetric warfare of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and of working with agencies Russian intelligence agencies with the aim of raising money for Iranian ‘proxy’ militias. Both the Petrochemical Commercial Company and its British subsidiary have been under US sanctions since November 2018.

Based on accounting records and multiple emails exchanged, the Financial Times explains that since the imposition of US sanctions, the Iranian firm used UK companies to receive funds from Iranian front entities based in China, while concealing their beneficial ownership through “trust agreements” and nominee directors. One of these companies, Pisco UK, is registered in the name of a single-family house in Surrey (in the southeast of the country) and used a commercial account with Santander UK.

Pisco UK is wholly owned by a British citizen named Abdollah-Siauash Fahimi, according to the British commercial register, but according to internal documents leaked online by the Iranian opposition website Wikilran, the firm is fully controlled by Petrochemical Commercial Company and Fahimi signed an agreement to hold the company in trust on his behalf. Fahimi, former director of Petrochemical Commercial Company UK from April 2021 to February 2022, has used a chemical company email address to maintain contact with company officials in Tehran. Asked about this, Santander told the British media that it could not comment on relationships with specific clients, but that it was “very focused on compliance with sanctions.” A company familiar with the situation has confirmed the closure of the Pisco account.