U.S. Aims to Seize Iranian Fuel Bound for Venezuela
On Wednesday, U.S. federal prosecutors filed suit to seize four tankers-worth of gasoline sent to Venezuela from Iran. This action reflects the latest effort to prevent the flows of goods and money that keep Iran in power, pressuring the governments in Tehran and Caracas to meet U.S. demands.
The civil-forfeiture complaint serves to prevent the delivery of Iranian fuel, deprive Tehran of the revenues from the cargo, and deter future shipments.
Zia Faruqui, U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, alleged in the suit that an Iranian businessman affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, an Iranian military unit considered a terrorist group by the U.S., arranged the fuel deliveries to evade U.S. sanctions.
Oil sales though Revolutionary Guard agents go to “support the IRGC’s full range of nefarious activities, including the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery, support for terrorism, and a variety of human rights abuses, at home and abroad,” Mr. Faruqui said.
Firms in the United Arab Emirates handled the sales, falsifying the fuel’s national source and calling for mid-sea transfers between ships, according to federal investigators. Iranian businessman Mahmoud Madanipour intended to deliver to China and Malaysia, the investigators also said.
The U.S. pressure campaign included diplomatic overtures, public and private warnings to the shipping sector about the deals, and a suit. U.S. actions led to declining energy exports for Iran and Venezuela.
However, the companies involved with the fuel deliveries may have maneuvered around the U.S. pressure. According to U.S. investigators, a co-conspirator sent a text message to Mr. Madanipour, saying: “The ship owner doesn’t want to go because of the American threat. But we want him to go, and we even agreed we will also buy the ship.”
Additionality, the filing implies Iran is still financially connected: “We can get payment in Oman, UAE, Turkey, Italy and Germany,” Mr. Madanipour allegedly said, displaying the network’s ability to avoid U.S. sanctions. Prosecutors say the network has also been used for other illicit business, such as the Grace 1 oil tanker that illegally used the U.S. financial system last year.
However, sanctions evaders are made vulnerable by their need to access the U.S. financial system to pay for shipping.