US issues criminal charges against Iranians who used international network to circumvent sanctions

Last week, the US issued criminal charges for two Iranians involved in exporting oil on behalf of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – Last week, the US issued criminal charges for two Iranians involved in exporting oil on behalf of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC-QF.)

Prosecutors cited Amir Abdulaziz Dianat, 55, and a business associate, Kamran Lajmiri, 42. Although both men are Iranian, Dianat also had an Iraqi passport in a second name: Amir Abdulaziz Jaafar al-Mutahaji.

They are accused of violating US sanctions by purchasing an oil tanker – the Nautic – from a Greek company for use by the IRGC-QF.

Dianat and Lajmiri employed several cut-outs to conceal from the company that was selling the tanker, Polembros Shipping, the fact that the IRGC-QF was its true purchaser.

Polembros is cooperating with US authorities and has been involved in legal action in the United Arab Emirates to recover the ship, which has been seized by UAE authorities to block its return to Iran.

Although Dianat paid some $12 million for the tanker, most of the payment was blocked, as the money went through a US bank, which judged the transaction suspicious. The US government is now seeking, through the US courts, to seize the funds.

The Treasury Department, which, separately, sanctioned Dianat and Lajmiri, described Dianat as the major figure in the scheme.

Dianat is “a longtime associate of senior officials” of the IRGC-QF, the Treasury Department stated, as it named two such individuals: Rostam Ghasemi, a former officer, who was also Minister of Oil from 2011 to 2013, and Behnam Shahriyari, who has long been engaged in shipping activities on behalf of the IRGC-QF.

The two Iranian officials have been sanctioned by both the US and EU.

The Scheme

Justice Department documents explain that Dianat hired Lajmiri to assist him in purchasing the oil tanker. In the spring of 2019, on the advice of an unnamed Japanese agent, they created a front company, Taif Mining Services LLC. It was “nominally registered” in the name of two Omanis, but the Iranians maintained “true majority ownership.”

The Nautic was registered to a Liberian subsidiary of Polembros, Crystal Holdings. Lajmiri found it “very difficult” to get Crystal Holdings to sell such a large ship to “a company with no background,” the Justice Department explained.

The Japanese agent, however, proved crucial as he had “international credentials,” which finally enabled Lajmiri to convince Crystal Holdings to sell the ship.

Lajmiri then used a UK brokerage firm to pay for the ship. In September, he wired the brokerage firm some 20 percent of the $12 million cost of the tanker, and the UK firm forwarded that money to Crystal Holdings.

Lajmiri then proceeded to do the same, with the remaining balance of nearly $10 million. But the US bank processing the transaction, Wells Fargo, suspected something was amiss. It blocked the transaction, and Crystal Holdings never received the money, according to the Justice Department.

Nonetheless, Taif Mining Services took possession of the tanker, prompting Crystal Holdings to go to court in the UAE.

Meanwhile, the Nautic, renamed the Gulf Sky, ferried oil from Iran to sell on the international market. It is unclear why the legal proceedings over the ship took place in the UAE. Perhaps, the Iranian oil was being transshipped through the Emirates. Whatever the case, authorities there have seized the ship, as noted above.

Most US actions against Iranian commercial dealings involve sanctions or the threat of sanctions. That is usually effective because major international companies generally do not want to risk a confrontation with the US government. However, when sanctions are imposed on individuals, their effect may be only symbolic, if those individuals have no US assets.

However, in this case, the criminal charges against Dianat and Lajmiri mean that if they travel to a country with which the US has an extradition treaty, they would be subject to arrest and transfer to the US to stand trial.

Editing by Karzan Sulaivany