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U.S. Unseals Terrorism and Sanctions-Evasion Charges, Seizures Linked to Iran’s Illicit Oil Trade

Mike Schuler
Total Views: 1548
February 2, 2024

The U.S. Department of Justice has unsealed three federal cases targeting the illicit trafficking of Iranian oil to help fund Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its Qods Force (IRGC-QF), both of which are recognized as Foreign Terrorist Organizations.

The unsealed cases span two U.S. Attorneys’ Offices. In the Southern District of New York, seven individuals, including an IRGC leader and officers from a Turkish energy group, are facing charges related to terrorism, sanctions-evasion, fraud, and money laundering. These individuals are accused of trafficking and selling Iranian oil to government-affiliated entities in China, Russia, and Syria to finance the IRGC-QF. The U.S. has seized $108 million as part of this scheme.

In the District of Columbia, a Chinese woman and an Omani man are similarly charged with sanctions-evasion and money laundering. They are accused of trafficking and selling Iranian oil to Chinese government-owned refineries. The District of Columbia also saw the unsealing of a forfeiture complaint for the seizure of illicit Iranian oil, alleging more than 500,000 barrels of Iranian fuel as property that funds the IRGC and IRGC-QF.

These actions are the latest in a series of Justice Department efforts to combat the illegal trafficking of Iranian oil in violation of U.S. law. The Department has been active in seizing oil onboard various tankers transporting illicit Iranian oil and enforcing civil forfeiture processes on the proceeds of the oil sales.

In September, the Department announced a seizure of oil onboard the tanker Suez Rajan along with a criminal plea by its ownership company, and a deferred prosecution agreement by its Greek operating company, Empire Navigation, all arising out of the tanker’s transport of illicit Iranian oil earlier in the year. Under the agreement, Empire Navigation agreed to cooperate with the government and transport the Iranian oil from Singapore to the United States for actual physical seizure. The oil was eventually sold for $74 million, and the proceeds of the sale are now subject to the civil forfeiture process.

Last month, Iran retaliated by seizing the same tanker, renamed the St. Nikolas, in the Gulf of Oman while carrying approximately 1 million barrels of Iraqi oil bound for Turkey.

The DOJ has been actively enforcing cases related to seizures of illicit Iranian oil since 2019. Notable cases include the seizure of petroleum from four oil tankers (named Bella, Bering, Pandi, and Luna) in July 2020, which was sold for approximately $45 million, and the seizure of petroleum from the oil tanker Achilleas in February 2021, which was sold for approximately $111 million.

In a statement, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland noted that the actions aim to disrupt Iran’s unlawful funding streams and hold individuals accountable for supporting Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions.

”The Justice Department will continue to use every authority we have to cut off the illegal financing and enabling of Iran’s malicious activities, which have become even more evident in recent months,” said Garland.

The Justice Department says it is committed to using all tools at its disposal, including criminal prosecutions and seizures of Iranian oil and oil profits, to shut down Iran’s pipeline of petroleum and profits.

“The charges and seizures announced today strike at the core of the global oil smuggling network that Iran has built to fund its regime of terror and repression, and deny the regime millions of dollars in proceeds to further its nefarious agenda,” said Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco.

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