The Georgian government froze approximately 150 bank accounts tied to Iranian businesses and individuals in order to comply with United Nations sanctions aimed at curbing Tehran's nuclear program, officials in Tbilisi said.
Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani announced the freezing of the Iranian bank accounts at a Friday news conference, in response to questions about a front-page article in The Wall Street Journal on Thursday that documented a sharp increase of investment by Iranians in Georgia over the past two years. Georgian government officials said the accounts were frozen before Thursday.
Ms. Tsulukiani said her government is studying the evidence reported in the Journal article and stressed that Tbilisi is committed to closely cooperating with the U.N. and U.S. to enforce the sanctions on Iran. She said U.N. authorities have responded positively to previous enforcement efforts.
Georgian officials also said Friday that the government in Tbilisi is considering altering its policy on visa requirements for Iranian nationals.
Since 2011, Georgia has waived the visa requirement for Iranian nationals, fueling a boom of Iranian tourists and businessmen coming into the nation. Only two other countries in Europe and the broader Middle East, Turkey and Armenia, currently allow Iranians such easy access.
Georgian officials said a change, if any, would be part of a broader reshuffling of its visa policy. "There will be changes for visa regulations for several countries," which will likely include Iran, said a Georgian official.
Sara Ghazi, editor of Tbilisi's main Persian-language newspaper, Aryana, said changes were already being felt on the ground. In the past two days, she said, Iranian visitors seeking to enter Georgia over its border with Armenia were denied access if they didn't have a prior hotel booking. Such refusals are new, she said.
In addition, she said that Georgian banks were tightening regulations for opening bank accounts for Iranian citizens. She warned that such measures could end up hurting the Iranian government's opponents, rather than its supporters. "The majority of Iranians [in Georgia] are against the regime and many can't return there," she said.
Georgian and European officials based in Tbilisi also said customs officials in the former Soviet republic recently seized engineering valves that were en route to Iran and suspected of being usable in the country's uranium-enrichment facilities.