The U.S. Justice Department has disrupted a multimillion-dollar shipment of crude oil by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a designated foreign terrorist organization, that was bound for another country.
This marks the first-ever criminal resolution involving a company that violated sanctions by facilitating the illicit sale and transport of Iranian oil, and over 980,000 barrels of contraband crude oil have been seized.
The operating company of the vessel carrying the contraband cargo, Empire Navigation, agreed to cooperate and transport the Iranian oil to the United States, and the contraband cargo is now the subject of a civil forfeiture action in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
On April 19, Suez Rajan Limited pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and was sentenced to three years of corporate probation and a fine of almost $2.5 million. Empire Navigation agreed to cooperate and transport the Iranian oil to the United States, incurring the significant expenses associated with the voyage.
The U.S. began unloaded the cargo from the Marshall Islands-flagged tanker, Suez Rajan, last month via ship-to-ship transfer after waiting two-and-a-half months off the coast of Texas to discharge. The U.S. seized the tanker in April while it was en route to China, prompting Iran to take the Chevron-chartered tanker, Advantage Sweet. Iran has threatened retaliation against any company unloading Iranian oil from the seized tanker.
The U.S. filed a forfeiture complaint alleging that the oil on a vessel is subject to forfeiture under US terrorism and money laundering laws.
The complaint alleges that multiple entities affiliated with Iran’s IRGC and IRGC-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) were involved in a scheme to sell and transport Iranian oil to a foreign customer through ship-to-ship transfers, falsified documents, and other means, while attempting to disguise the origin of the oil. The charterer of the vessel used the U.S. financial system to facilitate the transportation of the oil.
According to the complaint, oil profits are used to support the IRGC and the IRGC-QF, designated foreign terrorist organizations by the U.S., and facilitate money laundering. The profits also support activities such as weapons proliferation, terrorism, and human rights abuses.