US moves to seize more than 500,000 barrels of Iranian oil it says was illegally trafficked

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department announced Friday that it was seizing more than 500,000 barrels of internationally sanctioned Iranian fuel that officials said was illegally trafficked to provide funding for the country’s paramilitary force.

In addition, prosecutors announced criminal charges related to the sale of the crude oil to buyers in China, Russia and Syria.

Officials described the actions, which come at time of simmering tensions between the U.S. and Iran, as part of a broader effort to disrupt funding to the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force, an expeditionary unit believed to be working abroad in countries like Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen to back Iranian-allied militias.

“Iran presents a constant threat to the United States — trying to murder Americans right here within our borders, conducting a cyber-attack on a children’s hospital, supporting terrorists around the world, and more,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a statement. “All of Iran’s crimes cost money. And the FBI will remain committed to enforcing U.S. sanctions that keep money out of its coffers.”

Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement that “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.”

One criminal case, filed in New York, charges seven people — including multiple officers of a Turkish energy group and a leader within the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps — with using front companies, false documentation and manipulated location and shipping data to sell to government-affiliated buyers in China, Russia and Syria.

The charges include crimes related to terrorism, sanctions evasion, fraud and money laundering.

A separate criminal case filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., charges a Chinese woman and an Omani man for their alleged involvement in the sale of Iranian oil to refineries owned by the Chinese government.

The cases are the latest major ones related to Iran unsealed by the Justice Department this week. On Monday, prosecutors announced charges against an Iranian national accused of conspiring with two Canadians in a murder-for-hire plot on U.S. soil that was ultimately disrupted.

The more than 500,000 barrels of fuel that the U.S. is moving to seize were valued at over $25 million aboard the Abyss oil tanker. The Associated Press in March 2023 analyzed satellite photos and maritime tracking data to place the Abyss in a key Asian maritime strait next to the crude oil tanker Oceania for a possible ship-to-ship transfer.

The U.S. also says it seized $108 million that was used as part of the scheme.

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