Three Iranian ships held in Singapore over French loan

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Singaporean authorities have impounded three Iranian-owned ships for auction after their owners failed to repay a loan from a French bank, court documents showed Thursday.

The German-registered vessels "Tuchal," "Sahand" and "Sabalan" were listed as being under "sheriff's sale" on the Singapore high court's website.

Sheriff's sales are public auctions carried out on goods and property seized from owners who default on debts.

The plaintiff was identified as Credit Agricole Corporate and Investment Bank, but the French lender's branch in Singapore and its lawyers had no immediate comment when contacted by AFP.

The ships are currently anchored off Singapore's southern coast in a holding anchorage pending the auction, the court documents showed.

The Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines' chairman Mohammad Dajmar was quoted by Tehran's state-owned Press TV news network as saying the ships' seizure "was not because of debt".

"We had a loan and the (bank) changed it from a loan to a due (payment) because of (UN) sanctions. In other words, they committed a violation. Because the loan contract was signed before the sanctions," Dajmar said.

"We are trying to prevent the auctioning.... We are negotiating to pay them (the bank) ourselves and resolve the issue," he said in remarks carried on the network's website.

Iran is under four sets of UN sanctions for its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment, the sensitive process which can be used to make nuclear fuel or, in highly extended form, the core of an atom bomb.

The Islamic republic rejects claims by the West and Israel that its uranium enrichment programme masks a covert bid to acquire nuclear weapons, maintaining that it is developing nuclear energy solely for peaceful purposes.

Six world powers wrapped up two days of "substantive" talks with Iran on the nuclear issue in Geneva on Tuesday, with the two sides agreeing to meet again in Istanbul next month.

© 2010 AFP

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