No diplomats, thanks

Anyone who’s spent much time around UN headquarters in New York will know that the one ATM within walking distance of the UN is in the UN Plaza branch of JP Morgan Chase – handily located right across First Avenue from the UN building, and in the same building as UNDP. No surprise, then, that it’s also the bank of choice for numerous diplomats at the UN.

Until now, anyway. For JP Morgan Chase has now decided that, given the increasing compliance costs of anti-money laundering regulations, it’s just not worth its while to offer accounts to foreign officials based in the US. Not only that, but it suddenly decided this on Friday last week – and put the new regime into operation immediately, suspending all diplomats’ credit cards and blocking their accounts.

A terse letter sent to customers said “we recommend that you open a bank account with another financial institution, and begin using it immediately”. Well, yes. Jose Antonio Ocampo, former finance minister of Colombia and a leading contender to run the World Bank last time the job was up for grabs, was quoted like this in the FT: “Friday was hell for me. I had all my money frozen. I am being treated like a criminal.” According to the same piece, 3,500 accounts have been frozen.

As Colum Lynch notes in the Washington Post, this is rapidly becoming a headache for the State Department, which is obliged under a 1947 UN Agreement to ensure that foreign missions in the US have access to “necessary public services”. State’s Undersecretary for Management, Patrick Kennedy, has been dispatched to NYC to try and persuade banks to cater for the diplo-crowd. Not sure what kind of reception he’s going to get, given that the US’s money laundering crackdown is why all this is happening in the first place…