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May 10, 2017 4:24 pm

Top French Hotel Chain, With Large US Presence, Warned of ‘Legal, Financial, Reputational Risks’ of Major Expansion Into Iranian Market

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The Novotel and Ibis hotels at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport, managed by French chain Accor. Photo: Accor Hotels Group.

A top French hotel chain is being taken to task by opponents of Iran’s nuclear program over its growing presence in the Islamic Republic’s tourism industry — including a partnership with a local company believed to be a front for the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

In a detailed letter sent to Sebastien Bazin, the CEO and chairman of the Paris-based Accor Hotels Group, that was shared with The Algemeiner, Ambassador Mark D. Wallace — head of advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) — asserted that “the legal, political, financial, and reputational risks of doing business in Iran outweigh any theoretical benefit of commercial involvement in that market.”

Accor was the first hotel group to venture into the tourism business in Iran following the July 2015 nuclear deal reached by the Tehran regime with six world powers, when it signed a contract with local company Aria Ziggurat to manage two hotels on its behalf in September of that year. Those hotels — the Novotel and the Ibis, both located at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport — are now fully operational. Accor is also said to be bidding for 125 new hotels being constructed in Iran, along with rival hotel groups such as the Dubai-based Jumeirah Group and Spain’s Melia Group.

According to Mohamed Amin —  a senior research fellow for the Paris-based Fondation d’Etudes pour le Moyen-Orient (Foundation for the Study of the Middle East — FEMO) — Aria Ziggurat is, like many other Iranian commercial enterprises, “part of a group of companies owned by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps.”

The IRGC — which provides extensive military and financial support to pro-Iranian terrorist groups, like Hezbollah in Lebanon, as well as Syrian dictator Bashar Assad’s regime — has been extensively sanctioned by the US government, which targets anyone who “facilitates a significant transaction or transactions or provides significant financial services for the IRGC or its affiliates.”

Research conducted by UANI revealed that Accor generates revenues of over two billion euros annually from its hotel operations in the US. UANI also noted that, since 2000, Accor has won over $2 million in business from the US federal government, mainly in contracts with the Department of Defense.

Among Accor’s numerous hotel properties in the US are the Fairmont — in Washington, DC’s upscale Georgetown neighborhood — and the famous Plaza Hotel in New York City. The Plaza has long been a favorite venue of Jewish groups in New York for fundraising dinners, galas and other similar events.

“UANI strongly believes that no company should benefit from access to the world’s largest economy and consumer market and be enriched by US tax dollars while simultaneously doing business in Iran and with its lawless regime,” Wallace stated in his letter to Accor. “Given its significant US business footprint and status as a major federal contract recipient, Accor will be thrust to the forefront in a public debate about the propriety of corporate business in Iran.”

Wallace pointed out that American public opinion looks dimly on companies that engage in business with Iran. An August 2016 poll carried out on behalf of UANI found that 60 percent of likely US voters would stop buying products from a company if it did business with Iran, while 56 percent would sell stock in companies that decided to invest in Iran.

“Before Accor embarks on such a risky endeavor in Iran, it should ensure that its directors, shareholders, labor unions, contract partners, and other stakeholders are fully cognizant of the immense dangers involved,” Wallace urged.

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