Metro Bank closes accounts after making transactions that reference Cuba – is Metro Bank breaking UK laws?
On 28 November, a customer of Metro Bank was notified that their account(s) held with the bank would be closed and the bank could no longer provide them with banking services. This notice was received immediately following an email from Metro Bank stating that a payment of 50p to MediCuba-Europa in Switzerland had been rejected by the bank’s payment team. Since then, we have become aware of a second customer who has been informed by Metro Bank immediately following a payment sent to MediCuba-Europa that their account will be closed. We believe such activity is a violation of UK and retained EU law which contains blocking regulations designed to prohibit natural and legal persons operating in Britain from complying with extraterritorial sanctions including legislation under the US blockade of Cuba. Metro Bank has refused to confirm that it is specially authorised by the Secretary of State for International Trade to allow it to comply with US sanctions on Cuba.
British banks including Metro Bank have been threatened with fines by the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) for alleged violation of US sanctions against third countries. They are known to delay or block transactions which are suspected of being related to Cuba or which simply reference the word ‘Cuba’. This even includes payments sent for humanitarian reasons, such as donations to support Cuba’s recovery from the damage caused by Hurricane Ian. Metro Bank PLC’s External Sanctions Policy (February 2022) states that the bank is committed to ‘not conducting business directly or indirectly with or for the ultimate benefit of countries subject to sanctions…[currently including] Cuba’. When asked about the closure of the above bank account(s), and how this is compliant with UK laws, a Metro Bank manager claimed that the bank follows US law and has closed many bank accounts that involve Cuba. Metro Bank self-reported to OFAC in 2017 after discovering it had a banking relationship with a UK-based entity which it believed was subject to US sanctions on Cuba, and OFAC threatened Metro Bank with fines.
Rock around the Blockade, a British solidarity group, is participating in the campaign 1 Cent 4 Cuba (#1c4Cuba). The #1c4Cuba campaign was set up to challenge British, European and other non-US banks and financial institutions that illegally comply with the United States sanctions regime against Cuba by blocking or delaying payments which they suspect of involving Cuba.
In the absence of any other explanation for the account closure(s), the supporters of the #1c4Cuba campaign are left with the conclusion: that Metro Bank closed the account(s) because of transactions that involved the word ‘Cuba’ or which the bank suspected of otherwise involving Cuba. If we are incorrect, Metro Bank needs only clarify this with the account holder.
We know that British banks are terrified at the potentially disastrous consequences for their business if they cease to comply with US sanctions legislation. However, they are violating our rights and we intend to fight back. Legal or natural persons enforcing US sanctions against Cuba in Britain is a violation of the UK’s Extraterritorial US Legislation (Protection of Trading Interests) Order 1996. Implementing US sanctions in Britain is also a violation of a 1980 law, as stated in Parliament on 22 January 2019, by Sir Alan Duncan MP, Minister of State for Europe and the Americas, who confirmed: ‘under the UK Protection of Trading Interests Act 1980, it is illegal for UK companies to comply with extraterritorial legislation such as the US embargo.’ The government guide for British interests engaging with Cuba is clear on the issue of ‘extra-territorial fines’ (point 2.1): ‘The US Government has imposed extra-territorial fines on some companies in third countries that have done business with Cuba in breach of the Helms-Burton Act. However, these sanctions conflict with the UK Protection of Trading Interests Act which makes it illegal for UK based companies to comply with extraterritorial legislation. The Act contains a provision for fines to be levied against companies and individuals that fail to comply with this stipulation.’
We demand the following:
- That the bank account(s) referred to in this letter be re-opened without delay, or else that the basis of the decision to close the account(s) be released to the account holder without delay.
- That Metro Bank PLC publicly commit to removing all references to Cuba from its Economic Crime Prevention Policy and any equivalent public or internal documents.
- That Metro Bank cease delaying or rejecting transactions or closing accounts for reasons of compliance with US sanctions on Cuba, and publicly apologise for doing so.
If these demands are not met, Metro Bank PLC along with other institutions that illegally enforce US sanctions against Cuba within Britain will continue to be challenged by our campaign. We will continue to bring pressure to bear on the British government to enforce the blocking statutes and punish institutions that implement the US blockade.
On 17 December as part of an international day of action called by the #1c4Cuba campaign, supporters of RATB and FRFI will be protesting against Metro Bank, Lloyds Bank and RBS branches in Glasgow, Newcastle, Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, London and Brighton to challenge their collaboration in the US blockade of Cuba. Details of the pickets are on Facebook and you can contact local branches through social media to get involved:
Birmingham: Tell the banks, UNBLOCK CUBA! | Facebook
Brighton: Lloyds Bank - Unblock Cuba | Facebook
Manchester: Metro Bank stop blockading Cuba! | Facebook
Newcastle: Lloyds Bank - Unblock Cuba | Facebook
Glasgow FRFI | Facebook
Liverpool FRFI- Fight Racism Fight Imperialism | Facebook
For more information on #1c4Cuba see www.1c4cuba.eu