The US government has taken action against a network of fuel traders and shipping companies linked to Singapore, Switzerland and the UAE, accusing them of blending and selling sanctioned Iranian oil.
The Department of the Treasury says that as recently as mid-2022, the network was mixing Iranian oil with India-origin products, producing counterfeit documentation to disguise its origin, and using shipping companies and individual vessels under its control to sell to buyers in Asia.
The individuals and companies involved used storage units at the Port of Sharjah in the UAE, the Treasury says. To avoid detection, the network made use of ship-to-ship transfers near Singapore, and favoured vessels flagged in countries “less attentive to ship tracking system inactivity”.
Funds generated were allegedly used to support Hezbollah and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force (IRGS-QF), both designated by the US government as terrorist organisations.
“The individuals running this illicit network use a web of shell companies and fraudulent tactics including document falsification to obfuscate the origins of Iranian oil, sell it on the international market, and evade sanctions,” says Brian Nelson, Treasury under-secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.
“Market participants should be vigilant of Hezbollah and the IRGS-QF’s attempts to generate revenue from oil smuggling to enable their terrorist activities around the world.”
Several oil traders, including Geneva-based Ava Petroleum Services and Singapore-based Petro Naviero, as well as UAE-headquartered Energotrade Plus DMCC and Al Hakeel Al Aswad Oil Trading, are now subject to US sanctions.
A group of vessels, shipping companies and shipowners have also been blacklisted, including Singapore-based Centrum Maritime and two of its subsidiaries, as well as Panama-incorporated Rising Tide Shipping Corp.
Al Hakeel was used to facilitate shipments of illicit oil to Centrum Maritime and Ava Petroleum, the Treasury says, adding that Centrum Maritime had purchased around nearly half a billion barrels of crude oil from Al Hakeel as of mid-2022.
Four individuals involved in operating the network – Ukraine national Viktor Artemov, Iran nationals Edman Nafrieh and Rouzbeh Zahedi, and Lebanon national Mohamed el Zein – have been sanctioned for providing financial support to Hezbollah and the IRGS-QF.
French national Tatiana Ryabikova and Swiss national Gregorio Fazzone are sanctioned for their ties to Artemov and Ava Petroleum respectively.
The move follows enforcement action taken in May this year against another Iranian oil smuggling network, which the Treasury said was also backed by senior figures in the Russian government.
It also marks further actions against companies linked to the UAE and Singapore. In August this year, the Treasury sanctioned six companies for their role in facilitating the sale of Iran-origin petroleum products to buyers in East Asia, including UAE-based Blue Cactus and Singapore-based Pioneer Shipmanagement.
Another Singapore trader, Jiaxing Energy Holding, was previously designated for its alleged dealings with Trilliance – a trade intermediary sanctioned since January 2020 and described as “one of Iran’s most important petrochemical brokers”.
Trilliance itself was based in Hong Kong, with operations in the UAE, China and Germany, when it became subject to US restrictions.
In April, Australia-based freight forwarder Toll agreed to pay US$6.1mn to settle nearly 3,000 alleged violations of US sanctions, including trade with restricted Iranian entities.
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