LONDON, Oct 15 - Iran has experienced a net inflow of capital and gold bullion for the first time since the 1979 Islamic revolution. It has been drawn by domestic investment opportunities and driven by financial insecurity outside the country following the September 11 attacks on the US.
Bankers say the amounts returning to Iran probably totalled several billion dollars over the past year - although they are not on a scale comparable with the outflow of Saudi capital from the US. Official figures have not been disclosed.
The fear of collapsing stock markets is considerable but, more significantly, so is the danger of privateassets being frozen by a hostile US government that has branded Iran as part of an "axis of evil".
That sense of insecurity, according to one banker, persuaded the Iranian government to repatriate all or most of its gold bullion from the vaults of central banks in Europe.
"They were worried that the post-September 11 world order had changed and that it was safer to have the gold at home," he said. Iran's central bank, has refused to comment.
According to official figures, Iran's gold is valued at around $2.5bn. Much of that was deposited in the Bank of England, which also declined to comment.
Bankers suspect that tighter policing of money laundering in the west was also a factor behind the return of some capital to Iran. This in turn has prompted the government in Tehran to start drafting its own first law on money laundering.
Bankers generally believe that the improving domestic investment climate, fuelled in part by high oil prices, has acted as a powerful magnet for capital that has long flowed in the opposite direction. The central bank has kept the value of the rial steady against the dollar for the past two years, while maintaining interest rates that yield an annual 17 per cent on bonds.
The inflow of capital has triggered a surge on Tehran's stock exchange - one of the worlds best performing but most poorly regulated markets - and a construction boom with soaring property prices.
The Tehran exchange saw its trading volume rise by 170 per cent in the six months to September, while the all-share index rose 26 per cent.