the misadventures of the Russians with the banks in France

The war in Ukraine and the international sanctions against Russia seem to affect dozens of simple Russian nationals in France.

Under cover of the war in Ukraine and the resulting international sanctions against Russia, would French banks have their sights set on all Russian nationals residing in France without distinction? This is what dozens of simple Russian bank users in France have been denouncing for several days, scandalized to see transfers blocked or even to be refused the opening of an account. Sometimes without any stated reason, but often under the pretext of their nationality.

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As it was the end of the month, I only had 31 euros left in my current account and I therefore wanted to transfer money between my A booklet and my current account“says Anastasia, 31 years old. The young woman therefore goes as usual to the online space of her bank, Société Générale, but an error message appears, under the nebulous reason of “unpaid credit opposition“. “I called my advisor right away, who put me through to the branch manager. She told me that my transfers were blocked because I was Russian, given the political situation. And that the only solution was to go to an agency“Explains the one who has lived in France for two and a half years. She then cannot hold back her tears, faced with a situation that she judges “very shocking“.

Katia*, 28, says she felt “humiliated, discriminated againstwhen she received a written response from her advisor. “Due to geopolitical events, we are obliged to comply with regulations on accounts of customers of Russian origin“, she wrote to him, adding that”until further notice, all credit transfers to your accounts must go through the agency“. A practice “offensive” and “arbitrary», Considers Michel Guillaud, president of the association for the defense of bank users France Conso Banque. Léna*, a 63-year-old Franco-Russian, is obliged to insist with her bank, the CIC, to deign to provide her with an explanation. “The agency manager was uncomfortable. He said to me: “We are in a bit of a delicate situation, because you are of Russian origin. So we have to manually validate all the financial transactions you make“”, says this sworn legal expert.

No discrimination, according to the banks

On social networks, testimonials of this nature are multiplying, evoking especially Société Générale, but also BNP Paribas or Crédit Mutuel/CIC. The boss of the Russian news channel RT France, Xenia Fedorova, also accused Societe Generale on Wednesday of having “blocked the private accounts (to which are paid) the salaries of several of our Russian employees in France“, on his Telegram channel in Russian. On this encrypted messaging service, a group was created by victims of these practices, which now has more than 1,000 members. They are seeking to organize themselves to launch collective proceedings against the banks concerned. A petition on the site was also launched on Monday and has since been signed by more than 2,000 people.

The banks deny any discrimination against Russian nationals. Main questioned, Société Générale affirms to the Figaro not to block or close the accounts of people who are not subject to European sanctions. She justifies the misadventures of her Russian clients by “banking regulations, which require the verification of customer data“. More extensive controls at the moment, because of the international sanctions against Russia that European banking establishments must apply. They can lead in some cases todelays or blockages“, concedes Societe Generale, “if the customer has not updated his personal data“. Contacted, the Directorate General of the Treasury makes the same argument. “With regard to transfers, the sanctions regime in force naturally implies increased due diligence on the part of the banks“Explains the management attached to Bercy. On the side of BNP Paribas, we insist that “there is no different treatment for any nationality“. “We continue to exercise our duty of constant supervision, ensuring compliance with the regulatory obligations that apply to all banking institutions“, she adds.

The problem then may lie in the lack of communication from banking establishments to Russian users, who are sometimes left alone to face their questions and fears. “My bank just tells me “I don’t know why it’s blocked”, “I’ve escalated the problem, the blockage must be lifted by Paris, it may take a few more days, I’ll let you know as soon as possible ”. And she ignores me when I ask for explanations“says Irina*, 27 years old. And those who ultimately pull out an explanation claim not to have been warned in advance of the new policy of their establishment. Hence their concern when they saw their transfers “vanishovernight. “Of course it causes problems in my daily life, because I don’t receive my salary, while I have to pay my rent, my electricity bill, etc. And how can I do it without pay?asks Irina*.

Refusal to open an account

Since then, some Russian nationals have had their problem resolved, after providing several administrative documents. Sometimes at the request of the establishment itself, like Andreï, 26, of Belarusian nationality, whose advisor asked him for his tax notice and his payslip. “She told me that my account was blocked because there were missing documents in my file“, he says. Alexandra*, a 23-year-old Russian national, had to manage to find a solution. With her husband, she approached a lawyer. Then, when the bank hadn’t asked him anything, she sent him his residence permit and his tax notice. “This is what made it possible to unblock the situation“, assures Franck *, her spouse.

In addition, some say that they were dismissed when they tried to open a new account. After her disappointment at Société Générale, Anastasia says she turned to BNP Paribas, with her French companion, to open a joint account. Without more success. “The bank told us that we could not open a joint account there given the political context, because there is a Russian national in the account.»

Anything related to Russia today seems to scare off French banks. Antoine can testify to this. The young man, who in the past worked in Moscow at the French University College for three years, encountered refusals or silences from French banks when he asked to open a bank account for the association. aid to Russian students that he wanted to create. “One of them told me that the Russian side was a problem“, he relates. A completely legal practice, recalls Me Florian Desbos, lawyer at the bar of Lyon specialist in banking law, since “banks can freely refuse to open an account, they do not have to justify their decision“. Closed doors which also faced Ukrainian refugees, notes Michel Guillaud, of the France Conso Banque association. What the banks dispute, in particular BNP Paribas, which claims to have “normally open accounts, in all our regions, since the start of the conflict“.

*Name has been changed.

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