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US says it disrupts illicit oil shipment by Iran's IRGC, seizes contraband crude

Published 09/08/2023, 10:14 AM
Updated 09/08/2023, 03:50 PM
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By Arathy Somasekhar and Jonathan Saul

HOUSTON (Reuters) -The U.S. on Friday divulged it disrupted in April a multimillion-dollar shipment of crude oil by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, seizing more than 980,000 barrels of contraband crude oil that violated U.S. sanctions.

In April, Reuters reported that the U.S. confiscated cargo onboard tanker Suez Rajan, which was carrying Iranian oil at sea. The U.S. statement on Friday confirmed and fleshed out details of the story which cited sources.

The "illicit sale and transport of Iranian oil" violated sanctions targeting Iran, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) said in a statement that for the first time acknowledged its role. A plea agreement between the parties was made public this week.

The vessel was unloaded last month after waiting 2-1/2 months off the coast of Texas to discharge.

The Suez Rajan Ltd company pleaded guilty in April and was sentenced by to three years of corporate probation and a fine of almost $2.5 million, according to legal documents.

Empire Navigation, the operating company of the vessel carrying the contraband cargo, agreed to cooperate and transport the Iranian oil to the United States, the DOJ added, calling it the first criminal resolution to such a sanctions-violating sale.

Empire Navigation, which also incurred the significant expenses associated with the vessel's voyage to the U.S., did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

"It's a message to every Iranian smuggler that there is an off ramp from the mob," said Mark Wallace, chief executive of U.S. advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran, which uses satellite images to track tanker movement and first noted that the Suez Rajan had taken on the oil from another tanker.

Empire Navigation should be applauded for its cooperation with US authorities, Wallace added.

Participants attempted to disguise the origin of the oil using ship-to-ship transfers, false automatic identification system reporting, falsified documents and other means, the DOJ said, adding that the charterer of the vessel used the U.S. financial system to facilitate the transportation of Iranian oil.

The contraband cargo is now the subject of a civil forfeiture action in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, according to the DOJ.

The forfeiture complaint alleges the oil aboard the vessel is subject to forfeiture based on terrorism and money laundering statutes, the DOJ added. Funds successfully forfeited with a connection to a state sponsor of terrorism may in whole or in part be directed to the U.S. Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund.

Suez Rajan Ltd has agreed to forfeit all interests related to the cargo and waive all challenges, according to legal documents.

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