| DUBAI, Sept 10
DUBAI, Sept 10 Iran's central bank has for weeks
failed to provide U.S. dollars to traders to import essential
goods, driving down the value of the country's currency against
the dollar, a senior Iranian lawmaker said on Monday.
The Iranian rial slid to a record low on Monday, reaching
25,650 rials per dollar, about half its value a year ago,
according to currency tracking website Mesghal.
That represents a slump of about 17 percent since Thursday
and comes as Iran faces increasing economic and political
pressure over its disputed nuclear programme.
The rial trades at two rates in Iran: a "reference" rate of
12,260 to the dollar maintained by the central bank and
available only for the import of essential items, and the far
weaker rate determined by a street market made up of small money
changers, in which most Iranians can obtain hard currency.
Iranian lawmaker Gholamreza Mesbahi-Moghaddam, head of
parliament's planning and budget committee, accused the central
bank on Monday of not providing the cheaper dollars to import
basic goods for three weeks, forcing Iranian traders to turn to
the private market for dollars and thus driving the rial down
"Unfortunately the government has made the biggest mistake
in history by not injecting dollars to answer the demand of the
foreign exchange market," Mesbahi-Moghaddam said, according to
the Fars news agency. "From three weeks ago the central bank has
stopped supplying dollars."
He added: "The halt in the supply of dollars has caused a
sharp increase in their price in the market."
Mesbahi-Moghaddam did not indicate how he found out about
the central bank's supposed change in policy.
In an interview with Iran's Mehr news agency last week, an
unnamed Iranian importer said the government had not provided
subsidised dollars for the import of essential items for more
than two weeks, leaving the goods stuck in customs. Items
eligible for purchase with cheaper dollars include meat, grains,
oil and sugar.
Central bank governor Mahmoud Bahmani, quoted by the Iranian
Students' News Agency on Sunday, said the reference rate would
remain available for use by importers of essential goods and
that he had no plans to change it.
"The reference exchange rate for essential goods will not
rise and without a doubt, it will remain at that same 12,260
rials per dollar," he said.
Bahmani added that some importers were taking advantage of
the reference rate to buy goods and then selling them on to the
public at prices which could only be justified if they had used
the street rate.
But Mesbahi-Moghaddam's allegations raised doubts about
whether Iran has enough hard currency stores to weather Western
sanctions aimed at forcing the Islamic republic to give up its
At the end of last year Iran had $106 billion of official
foreign reserves, enough to cover an ample 13 months of imports
of goods and services in normal times, according to the
International Monetary Fund.
However, the reserves may have started falling as the
sanctions have cut oil exports. Iran's monthly sales of crude
oil, its major source of hard currency, may have dropped by
nearly half in the course of this year, analysts have estimated.
Drops in the rial threaten to push up domestic consumer
prices for food and other goods, adding to inflation that is
already at double-digit levels.
Hashemi, a money changer at the Al Dhahery exchange in
Dubai, said his office had stopped seeing business from Iranian
traders in the last few days, as they grew fearful that their
profits would be lost to the ups and downs of the market.
"Most people who come here to conduct trade, it's not worth
it for them," he said, declining to give his full name because
he was not authorised to speak to media. "If they buy dollars
now with one dollar at 25,000 rials, if it goes down in one or
two days to 24,000 rials, they will have lost money."