DUSHANBE, October 23, 2013, Asia-Plus – The National Bank of Tajikistan (NBT) has imposed restrictions on activities of Kont Investment Bank in Tajikistan.

Daler Abdullo, a spokesman for Kont Investment Bank, has confirmed this information, noting that Tajik central bank made a decision to impose restrictions on their bank activities in March following sanctions imposed by the U.S. Treasury Department on Iranian businessman Babak Zanjani, a Malaysian bank and a network of companies under his control.  The United States accused them of attempting to evade international sanctions on Iran''s nuclear program through money laundering.

Daler Abdullo does not deny that Babak Zanjani was founder of Kont Investment Bank, “but now a Turkish citizen assumes the 100 percent ownership interest in Kont Investment Bank.”

“Restriction imposed on Kont Investment Bank’s activities in Tajikistan does not mean that it has suspended its activities in Tajikistan,” said Abdullo.  “Kont Investment Bank works in compliance with Tajikistan’s legislation and international standards but with compulsory observance of restrictions imposed by Tajik central bank.”

Meanwhile, Abdughaffor Qurbonov, a spokesman for the NBT, says that under decision of Tajik central bank Kont Investment Bonk now does not have the right to open its branches in Tajikistan and participate in signing of agreement with customers of credit organizations.

Besides, the National Bank of Tajikistan has ordered all credit organizations to suspend cooperation with Kont Investment Bank until it is excluded from the U.S. sanction list.

Babak Zanjani’s Tajik empire includes a bank, an airline, a taxi service and a bus terminal that President Emomali Rahmon himself helped inaugurate in March.

On its website, the Dubai-based Sorinet Group, which describes Zanjani as its chairman, lists at least two dozen companies engaging in construction, cosmetics, hospitality, transport, and oil and gas extraction.  The site also lists the Asia Express Terminal in Dushanbe as one of its subsidiaries.

In April, the U.S. Treasury Department targeted Zanjani and a Malaysian bank under his control, along with “an international network of front companies” including Sorinet Commercial Trust.  US officials believe the Zanjani-connected entities are “moving billions of dollars on behalf of the Iranian regime.  The Treasury Department is also targeting his Kont Investment Bank, based in Dushanbe.

Dubai-based Sorinet Commercial Trust Bankers (SCT Bankers) and Malaysia-based First Islamic Investment Bank (FIIB) were reportedly designated for providing financial, material, technological or other support for Naftiran Intertrade Company Ltd (NICO) and the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC).   

Turkey-based Kont Kozmetik was designated for being owned or controlled by Babak Zanjani.  Kont Kozmetik was founded in 2007 by Zanjani.  In 2011 Kont Kozmetik bought Kont Investment Bank in Tajikistan.  The U.S. Treasury Department is designating Kont Investment Bank for being owned or controlled by Kont Kozmetik.

It should be noted that Kont Investment Bank owns 100 percent of shares in Asian Express Airline, which on its part, assumes the 100 percent ownership in Dushanbe’s Bus Terminal.

The website of Zanjani’s Sorinet Group shows at least a dozen company names, mostly based in the UAE, with some in Tajikistan and Turkey.

Asian Express Airline, Dushanbe Bus Terminal and Dushanbe City Center are also among those companies.  Asian Express Airline is on the Main Company List while Dushanbe Bus Terminal and Dushanbe City Center are on the Main Project List compiled on December 24, 2012.

Last December the European Union sanctioned Zanjani for being “a key facilitator for Iranian oil deals and transferring oil-related money.

Zanjani told the Reuters news agency shortly after the European sanctions were announced that he does not do business with the Iranian government.  He suggested that EU regulators were mistaken in their assumption that he was engaging in illicit activity.