The Obama administration reportedly signed legal waivers that allowed sanctions relief to the tune of $10 billion in cash and gold to be sent to Iran as part of the Iran deal. But the White House denies that they had any direct role in the payments.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the cash and gold were moved through third-party countries in the Middle East and Europe after Asian nations unfroze Iranian oil revenues and wired the funds to various banks, including in Oman, Switzerland and Turkey. U.S. lawmakers and Middle East allies worry, due to the highly liquid nature of cash, the payments could be used to fund terror regimes.
The money was converted to currency and bars of gold, U.S. officials said. The White House put a single restriction on the transactions: They could not include U.S. dollars.
From the WSJ:
To enable the flow of the $700 million monthly payments, the White House signed a series of legal waivers authorizing countries to unfreeze Iranian oil revenues, the officials said. Without the waivers, those countries in many cases would have been in violation of U.S. secondary sanctions.
Some of the payments were previously reported; however, others went unreported. One unreported payment included $1.4 billion to Iran in the time period between when the Iran deal was finalized in July 2015 and when it went into effect.
The U.S. Treasury Department has a policy of criticizing large cash payments because, according to the WSJ report, "they could be used by criminal gangs, narcotics traffickers or terrorist organizations. International sanctions, however, have long restricted Iran’s access to global financial and banking systems, making other forms of payments necessary."
Some observers worry that this might translate into funding terror regimes such as the Assad regime in Syria, the Lebanese militia Hezbollah and the Houthi political movement in Yemen.
The Obama administration says it played no role in the $10 billion cash and gold payments to Iran, contending that the countries that unfroze the oil revenues and made the banking transfers acted of their own volition. U.S. officials also note that Iran felt payments related to the Iran deal were coming too slowly, and that "a final deal might not have been possible if they hadn’t found ways to get Iran some of the monthly $700 million payments during the 18 months of negotiations."
At the beginning of December, Congress passed a 10-year extension on sanctions against Iran, which were set to expire Dec. 31. The extension became law, though the president declined to sign the bill.