When the banks don't work, a suitcase full of cash will suffice

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman and this is The World.
It'd be a great start to a movie: a shady character with a suitcase full of cash tries to get through airport security without attracting much attention. Except it's not fiction for many Iranians, or for many others doing business with Iran. Under the current US sanctions on Iran, this happens to be one of the most efficient ways to get money in and out of the country.

Ricahrd Oladi: I'm Richard Oladi, I work for a British business in Iran. We work in finance on the Tehran Stock Exchange.

Werman: Oladi would prefer not to name that company, for security purposes.

Oladi: I'm in a very small minority of English people here, working in Iran. You can count us on two hands, probably.

Werman: And when it comes time to pay the staff in Iran, the money has to come from the UK. But because of the sanctions on banking, Oladi says they can't do a money transfer.

Oladi: Rather than the old transfer it directly, we have to almost bring the money, you know, via a courier, via DHL, or somebody. We have to go to London and bring money for three months to pay the staff in Iran.

Werman: Bring money in a suitcase. It's not illegal, and Oladi says it happens all the time.

Oladi: You've got a lot of people, a lot of Iranians, particularly, that have got investments in Iran, that own property, that get rent in Iran, and want to take the money back to, say for instance, London. And you know, they were just carrying this money back, either in gold or hard currency.

Werman: At the least, it's a hassle. But it makes it hard to do business in Iran. Bear in mind, though, that's the goal of the US and European sanctions: to make doing business with Iran extremely difficult, so that Iran will be willing to compromise on its nuclear program. As part of the temporary agreement between Iran and Western powers, some sanctions are being lifted, but not the ones on the banking system. So Oladi's company will still have to go through the usual suitcase route. But just the talk of lifting sanctions is changing things in Iran.

Oladi: Things are much more stable. The economy feels a lot more stable. The black market in currency has almost been obliterated. The price of goods is coming down because the dollar has come down.

Werman: He says that's good for Iranians, and it could be good for investors.

Oladi: Well, Iran is a consumer-hungry country. You've got an enormously young population, you've got an enormously wealthy population and cash-rich economy, and particularly in Tehran. You're not seeing companies pouring in yet, but you're certainly seeing a lot of companies looking at coming into Iran very, very soon.

Werman: Though, it's likely they'll hold off until the West lifts the sanctions that require people like Oladi to carry in bags full of cash.