The Justice Department announced Friday the disruption of a multi-million-dollar shipment of crude oil by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) that was bound for another country and the seizure of over 980,000 barrels of contraband crude oil.
“This is the first-ever criminal resolution involving a company that violated sanctions by facilitating the illicit sale and transport of Iranian oil,” the Justice Department said in a statement.
On April 19, Suez Rajan Limited pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate US sanctions. On the same day, the company was sentenced to three years of “corporate probation” and slapped with a nearly $2.5 million fine.
A US District Court issued a seizure warrant against a vessel carrying contraband cargo, and the company, Empire Navigation, agreed to cooperate and transport the Iranian oil to the US. The Justice Department said that the operation had now concluded.
According to the Justice Department, Empire Navigation covered the “significant expenses” associated with the vessel’s voyage to the US.
The US had been hesitant to do anything with the cargo of oil, with critics saying the Biden administration was in the middle of a behind-the-scenes deal with Iran that would see it slow down the enrichment of weapons-grade uranium potentially needed for a nuclear weapon.
A prisoner-for-cash deal was reached between Washington and Tehran over the summer, which saw wrongfully detained US citizens released from prison in Iran and placed under house arrest. In return, the US will unfreeze Iranian funds overseas and free an unannounced number of Iranian prisoners in the US.
Last month, a bipartisan group of US lawmakers called on President Joe Biden to move on discharging the cargo, which has been sitting off the coast of Texas for over three months now.
Tehran threatened to retaliate against the US or any oil company unloading oil from the seized tanker.
The US is now looking to seize control over the cargo after the United States alleged that the oil was subject to forfeiture based on US terrorism and money laundering statutes.
“The complaint alleges a scheme involving multiple entities affiliated with Iran’s IRGC and the IRGC-Quds Force (IRGC-QF) to covertly sell and transport Iranian oil to a customer abroad,” the Justice Department said.
Those involved in the scheme tried to mask the origin of the oil by transferring it to different ships, falsifying documents and other system reporting methods. Washington is accusing the IRGC of using the US financial system to facilitate oil transport.
The US is also alleging that the profits from oil sales support the IRGC’s “full range of malign activities, including the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery, support for terrorism and both domestic and international human rights abuses.”
Washington hopes that money from the seized cargo will be used for the US Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund.
Over 3,000 American troops arrived in the Middle East last month in response to Iranian and Russian threats in recent months, part of a pre-announced deployment.
The US Sailors and Marines were onboard the USS Bataan and USS Carter Hall warships.
That came after Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin ordered the deployment of an Amphibious Readiness Group/Marine Expeditionary Unit (ARG/MEU) into the region, which was in addition to the F-35s, F-16s, and a guided-missile destroyer, the USS Thomas Hudner (DDG-116) that were dispatched.
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