Photo Credit: Tasmin News / CC4.0
An Iranian oil tanker identified as the Ndros, in Venezuela, in Dec. 2020. Except the Ndros was scrapped in 2018, and this may be the Calliop disguised under that name.

On the day that the Biden administration point man on Iran testified before a Senate committee, the U.S. Treasury Department announced a new sanctions package targeting an oil-smuggling and money-laundering network belonging to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force (IRGC-QF), backed by Russia.

The network, which was led by Quds Force official Behnam Shahriyari and former Quds Force official Rostam Ghasemi, “has facilitated the sale of hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of oil for the Quds Force and Hezbollah, and it spans several jurisdictions, including Iran and Russia,” according to a Treasury statement.

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“The United States remains fully committed to holding the Iranian regime accountable for its support to terrorist proxies that destabilize the Middle East,” said Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson in the statement. “While the United States continues to seek a mutual return to full implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, we will not hesitate to target those who provide a critical lifeline of financial support and access to the international financial system for the Quds Force or Hezbollah. In particular, the United States will continue to strictly enforce sanctions on Iran’s illicit oil trade. Anyone purchasing oil from Iran faces the prospect of U.S. sanctions.”

Treasury claims that Ghasemi leveraged a Russia-based company—RPP Limited Liability Company—to transfer millions of dollars from Russia to the IRGC-QF. The entity was formerly managed by Afghanistan’s Chargé d’Affaires in Moscow, businessman Kamaluddin Gulam Nabizada.

Nabizada, previously linked to a scheme to defraud the Kabul Bank, is alleged to have raised funds for the IRGC-QF in tandem with unnamed senior Russian government and intelligence officials. Mihrab Suhrab Hamidi, RPP LLC’s manager, has overseen the company during some of the allegedly illicit oil sales and transport.

Treasury says the UAE-based Zamanoil DMCC has worked with the Russian government and Russian state-owned Rosneft to ship large quantities of Iranian oil to companies in Europe on behalf of the IRGC-QF.

Four Iran-based IRGC-QF officials and associates were also targeted for sanctions, along with three Turkey-based IRGC-QF associates alleged to have concealed the source of proceeds from illicit Iranian oil and petrochemical sales. Lebanon-based Concepto Screen SAL Off-Shore, which has been accused of facilitating oil deals likely benefiting the IRGC-QF and Hezbollah, was sanctioned, in addition to other companies based in Turkey, South Korea, Hong Kong, Iran and China.

The designations will result in all property and interests in property, and all businesses owned directly, indirectly or partially by the individuals named, being blocked and reported to the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). All transactions between individuals in the United States and entities designated would also be prohibited.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the Biden administration announced the sanctions even as it continues efforts to seek a joint return with Iran to compliance Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), otherwise known as the Iran nuclear accord.

U.S. Special Envoy on Iran Robert Malley discussed the new sanctions during his testimony Wednesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, detailing the status of JCPOA negotiations. The sanctions announcement was praised by the panel’s chairman, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), but derided by Ranking Member Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), who said the administration should turn its focus on sanctioning Iranian oil sales to China.

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