Rumors have recently spread among Iran’s jittery populace regarding the state of their country’s banking system. Although these rumors happen to be nothing but a false alarm, the financial sector really is, and has been, in crisis for a number of different reasons.
The current spate of rumors began on Jan. 28, when Iran’s commercial banks were ordered by the central bank to limit each depositor’s daily cash withdrawal to 150 million rials (about $15,000). The order was explained by authorities as a means of implementing the anti-money-laundering legislation just passed by the Majlis, Iran’s parliament, and combating what the finance minister called “financial terrorism.” This announcement coincided with an unrelated statement by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad two days earlier regarding the elimination of “three zeros” from the currency, due to its drop in value, and the government’s intention to restore the Iranian currency to its “real value.” These dual developments aroused widespread suspicions among the traditionally cynical rank and file, who were already rightly skeptical of the often exaggerated and frequently contradictory economic statistics coming out of Tehran over the past five years. Sporadic news reports about the banking system’s undercapitalization and the rising number of its nonperforming loans added to mounting anxieties.
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