Some UK dealers and auctioneers have had payments stopped or delayed as the banks, careful not to fall foul of the law, question the legality of transactions.
While the UK no longer imposes sanctions on Iran, the rules surrounding the sale of Persian works of art to the US are complex. The country allows for the trade of Persian carpets of a certain weave and age but “antiques of an age exceeding 100 years that are not carpets and other textile wall coverings are not authorised for importation”.
The origin of objects can also be ambiguous, as items from the geographic regions known as Persia and Indo-Persia and Mesopotamia could have been made within a number of modern borders including India, Pakistan, Turkey, Egypt and Iraq.
Hampshire and West Sussex auction house Bellmans is among those that have been impacted. “These US sanctions are designed to hammer Iran by enforcing legislation throughout the banking world. But they make it very difficult for us,” said Jonathan Pratt, managing director. “We may need to set up a separate account for Persian-related items. We are looking at options of how to proceed.
“US sanctions make it difficult. We may need a separate account for Persian related items
“There are grey areas such as items from Mesopotamia – which is largely what is now modern day Iraq, not Iran –that have also caused issues.”
As first reported in ATG No 2280, Barclays and HSBC are among the banks that have been actively questioning transactions.
Payments to and from the US have been queried by Bellmans’ bank, with objects causing issues including a Tabriz carpet bought by a US client and a Mesopotamian coin sold by a US client.
A Barclays spokesperson said: “The trade in antiquities is a complex area for our customers to navigate, with divergence between the EU and US sanctions regimes.
“Barclays endeavours to work with our customers to understand their business and we review transactions on a case-by-case basis.”
HSBC declined to comment.