LONDON–A manager with the National Iranian Tanker Co. rejects U.S. claims that the oil transport company is a state company and says it should not be sanctioned as one.
Shahram Farahbod, NITC’s legal claims manager, also offered documents that purport to show the company split from Tehran’s control over a decade ago. But the U.S. Treasury says it stands by its determination that NITC is government-owned and should be subject to restrictions that prevent any U.S. citizen or company from doing business with it.
However, a Treasury report Monday said there is “insufficient information” to determine whether NITC is affiliated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Such a finding would have subjected the company to sterner restrictions.
Mr. Farahbod spoke to Dow Jones Newswires prior to the Treasury’s decision.
The question of Iranian-government ownership underscores the increasing complexity of U.S. sanctions against Iran as they expand deeper within the country’s economy.
Official letters provided by Mr. Farahbod say NITC’s majority shareholders are nongovernmental organizations, while its employees are taxed as private-sector staff and it receives no government funding.
The documents were issued between 2000 and 2006–before the company was targeted by U.S. restrictions.
A December 2002 letter by the fiscal department of Iran’s finance ministrysays that 66% of NITC’s shares were transferred from the state in early 2000 to “the State Retirement Organization and the Social [Security] Organization and the said organizations are nongovernmental organizations.”
Therefore, “the company is considered to be a nongovernmental company,” and the income of its employees taxable as private sector, it says.
In a separate letter sent to NITC in December 2000, the Iranian presidency’s office mentions that the annual budget for the next year doesn’t allocate any funds to the company. Following its privatization, “counting [NITC’s] budget under…the State Budget is in violation of the law,” it said.
Mr. Farahbod said that “whether [a company] is governmental or private all depends on the governing law and applicable jurisdiction [Iran] in which that company is established.”
However, the U.S. Treasury disagrees.
A Treasury spokewoman said it stood by its identification of NITC as “an entity of the Government of Iran,…its claims to the contrary notwithstanding.”
The decision, initially taken in July, blocks any NITC property or interest in property in U.S. jurisdiction, and also bans any U.S. persons or companies from dealing with it.
Michael Burton, a Washington-based lawyer with law firm Arent Fox, said a privatized company could still be identified as a state entity if it is determined to be controlled or acting on behalf of the government of Iran.
However, NITC on Monday avoided more stringent restrictions after the U.S. Treasury said that it didn’t have not enough evidence to conclude it acted on behalf of the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.
Those restrictions, required by Congress as part of new sanctions package against Iran enacted this summer, could have forced foreign banks to choose between NITC and the U.S. if connections with the Guard had been proven.
By contrast, the Treasury determined that state-owned National Iranian Oil Co. is an agent or affiliate of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.
– Benoit Faucon, (c) 2012 Dow Jones & Company