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GreekReporter.comGreek NewsGreek Shipper Admits Smuggling Iranian Oil, Faces $2.4M Fine

Greek Shipper Admits Smuggling Iranian Oil, Faces $2.4M Fine

Greek shipping
The Greek shipping firm has agreed to assist the U.S. in transferring and offloading the crude oil cargo present on its vessel in Texas. Credit: fdecomite / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 2.0

Greek tanker operator Empire Navigation pleaded guilty to charges of transporting illicit Iranian oil involving the Suez Rajan tanker. Court documents recently obtained by the Associated Press and The New York Times shed light on the extent to which Iran is concealing its sanctioned oil shipments.

As per the documents viewed by the Associated Press, Empire Navigation has been fined $2.4 million after admitting guilt to one count of violating U.S. sanctions concerning the shipment and sale of Iranian oil. Additionally, the Greek shipping firm has agreed to assist the U.S. in transferring and offloading the crude oil cargo present on its vessel in Texas. As part of the case, the company acknowledged the accuracy of the facts stated in a document and committed to not disputing the Statement of the Offense.

Initially, the U.S. government sought to keep these documents sealed, citing potential security risks to the defendant, government, vessel, and its crew.

Known Details of the Case and Confiscation of Iranian Oil

In February 2022, suspicions arose when United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) suggested that the Suez Rajan might be carrying Iranian oil from Khargh Island, the main Persian Gulf oil distribution center. Satellite images and shipping data analyzed by the AP confirmed these claims.

The recently unveiled court records utilize satellite images and documents to reveal the Suez Rajan’s attempt to obscure its loading of Iranian crude oil from one vessel by falsely claiming it originated from another.

As reported, after lingering for months in the South China Sea off Singapore’s northeastern coast, the ship unexpectedly set course for the Texas coast without explanation. The cargo was transferred to another tanker, which later discharged the oil in Houston.

These court documents now officially confirm the U.S. government’s seizure of approximately one million barrels of oil from the Suez Rajan, marking the first public acknowledgment by U.S. prosecutors, AP underlines.

Apostolos Tourkantonis, a lawyer representing Empire Navigation, pleaded guilty to a single charge of violating Iran sanctions in April 2023.

According to the U.S. Treasury, revenue generated from Iran’s oil smuggling supports the Quds Force, the Revolutionary Guard’s expeditionary unit with operations across the Middle East. The court documents tie the Guard to this trade, which involves numerous vessels attempting to conceal their movements and shield their ownership through foreign shell companies.

Notably, the Suez Rajan case differed at the time of the transfer because it was owned by the Los Angeles-based private equity firm Oaktree Capital Management.

Commodity intelligence firm Kpler estimates Iran exports 1 to 1.5 million barrels of oil daily, despite U.S. sanctions.

Ex-US Ambassador praised Greek operator’s plea deal

Former U.S. Ambassador Mark Wallace, who leads United Against Nuclear Iran, commended Empire Navigation‘s decision to accept the plea agreement, likening Iran’s oil smuggling to organized crime and encouraging others to discontinue such activities.

Wallace mentioned Empire Navigation’s resilience in the face of Iranian threats in Greece, applauding their choice to exit illicit operations. He mentioned that “they faced down Iranian assassination threats in Greece.” Wallace refrained from providing further details, as U.S. court documents regarding the alleged assassination threat remained confidential due to security concerns expressed by prosecutors.

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