India to soon clear $700 million oil dues to Iran

India will pay Iran $700 million to clear more than one-tenth of the outstanding oil dues, ahead of the expected lifting of sanctions against Tehran

The Reserve Bank of India will make payments of $6.5 billion in past oil dues to Iran "in a calibrated manner so that there is no pressure on exchange rate", a senior finance ministry official said. The first tranche will go out "sometime this month," he said. Another official said the first tranche of $700 million will go out in "next few days".

"Modalities are being worked out and it will be paid in next few days," he said. US Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control last month approved Indian refineries' paying $1.4 billion out of the $6.5 billion in past oil dues to Iran. No modalities of the second instalment of $700 million have yet been worked out, the official said.

The remaining $4 billion would be cleared in tranches after payment channels are cleared. The payments are being made after the July nuclear deal that Tehran has struck with western powers, allowing for suspension and eventual termination of sanctions. Sanctions will be lifted after the International Atomic Energy Agency verifies that Iran has implemented its commitments to cease its nuclear programme. Until then, the interim sanctions relief format of November 2013 would continue.

The dues to Iran on crude oil that refiners buy have accumulated as Western sanctions blocked payment routes since 2013. About 45 per cent of the oil import bill is paid in rupees in a UCO Bank branch and the rest has accumulated.

The official said refiners will deposit $700 million with RBI which will transmit the money to Iran. Since February 2013, refiners like Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals (MRPL) and Essar Oil have been paying 45 per cent of dues on purchase of crude oil from Iran in rupees through UCO Bank, Kolkata.

The remaining has been accumulating, pending finalisation of a payment route and mechanism. They had last year paid nearly $3 billion in six instalments through a limited payment channel following start of nuclear talks between the Western world and Iran. The outstanding has since climbed to over $6.5 billion. Essar Oil owes $3.34 billion, MRPL ($2.49 billion) and Indian Oil Corp ($581 million) to Iran. HPCL-Mittal Energy Ltd (HMEL) owes $97 million and Hindustan Petroleum Corp Ltd (HPCL) another $29 million. Besides, about Rs 17,000 crore was lying in an Iranian account with UCO Bank.

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