In early March, Facebook groups, Telegram chats and forums in which Russians and Russian-speaking people in Germany networked were buzzing. Numerous users reported that they were warned by their German house banks that their account could no longer function as a result of the EU sanctions imposed over the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine.
Most accepted the subsequent checks on their residency status, but for others these were at least inconvenient. Some spoke of discrimination and general suspicion. Three months later, one thing above all is clear: the banks were not transparent and understandable in their actions.
Tatjana from Schleswig-Holstein discussed the reviews in the “Germany.ru” forum. According to her own statements, as a Postbank customer, she had to present a copy of her German ID card, but her son was not contacted by the same bank. Both have Russian and German passports. Tatjana’s mother, who has a temporary residence permit in Germany, has accounts in two banks. The Postbank asked for proof, but not the Sparkasse.
Reports of this kind abound. In forums there are also cases of former Kazakh or Uzbek citizens who have been living in Germany as German citizens for a long time and have now been contacted. However, the EU sanctions only affect accounts held by Russian citizens without a residence permit in an EU member state, a country belonging to the European Economic Area or Switzerland.
WELT AM SONNTAG asked the leading credit institutions how many people they contacted in the course of these checks, which criteria they used in the selection and how many violations of the right of residence, the right to sanctions or other laws they ultimately found. None of the banks asked provided any specific information on this. In general, it was said that one is obliged to check whether certain customer relationships are affected by the current EU sanctions.
A spokeswoman for Deutsche Bank said that “potentially affected customers” had been informed in writing about the sanctions without mentioning the designation. Since it cannot be ruled out that there may have been changes to the residence permits valid at the time the account was opened, current proof is required. Restrictions according to the EU sanctions would only take place if credits exceeded the limit of 100,000 euros.
As far as the extent of the checks and possible hits in terms of sanctions or money laundering laws are concerned, the banks are keeping a low profile. Unfortunately, one could not serve with individual numbers, one answered from the Deutsche Bank. Commerzbank announced: “For data protection reasons, we do not comment on individual customer relationships.”
The Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (BaFin) announced that the banks themselves are responsible for implementing the sanctions. However, if “excessive implementation results in the violation of consumer protection standards”, she could object to this. The authority investigated individual complaints received from consumers, “misunderstandings among the credit institutions regarding the scope of the EU sanctions could be cleared up”.
For the financial policy spokesman for the FDP parliamentary group, Markus Herbrand, “the banks first of all fulfill their information obligations towards their customer base and at the same time support the feasibility of the sanctions against Russia”. For the Union faction, Antje Tillmann speaks of initially “excessive reactions from the banks”. She can understand that this has caused irritation on the part of Russian customers who, despite staying in Germany for decades, feel that they are held jointly responsible.