Iran's current transport minister and an officer in the Revolutionary Guards' expeditionary Quds Force, together with a cluster of their contacts and companies around the world, newly sanctioned by the Biden administration on Wednesday for leading "an international oil smuggling and money laundering network". The operation was sed to have seen millions of dollars' worth of Iranian oil covertly sold to raise money for the IRGC and Hezbollah.
Current official Behnam Shahriari and ex-IRGC brigadier general Rostam Ghasemi, who is now Minister of Roads and Urban Development in Ebrahim Raisi's cabinet, were said by the US Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to have run the network as "a critical element of Iran's oil revenue generation, as well as its support for proxy militant groups."
The Russian Connection
OFAC also said the network had been "backed by senior levels of the Russian Federation government" and sold oil to both the Russian and Venezuelan state oil companies.
From April 21, Ghasemi is alleged to have been using a Russia-based company, RPP LLC, to transfer millions of dollars on behalf of the Quds Force from Russia. RPP LLC was formerly managed by a Russia-based Afghan businessman, Kamaluddin Gulam Nabizada, who also happens to be the former Afghan charge d'affaires in Moscow.
Nabizada was previously linked to a corrupt scheme to defraud Kabul Bank to the tune of $800m. Apart from the financial loss, OFAC asserted, the incident led to "the widespread loss of confidence in the Afghan banking sector".
The current manager of RPP LLC is a man by the name of Mihrab Subrab Hamidi. OFAC asserts some of the oil sales with his name on the books were ultimately overseen by Rostam Ghasemi.
Separately, the UAE-based firm Zamanoil DMCC, whose ownership structure is currently unknown, was reported to have worked with the Russian government and the Russian state-owned Rosneft to ship large quantities of Iranian oil to companies in Europe on behalf of the Quds Force.
Tentacles in China, Venezuela and North Korea, and Turkish Terrorists on the Books
The Treasury also sanctioned two intermediaries, Mohammad Sadegh Karimian and Alireza Kashanimehr, who it said travelled from Iran to Turkey and worked with Shahriari’s network to conceal the source of the oil proceeds. Karimian also reportedly arranged sale and transport of tens of thousands of tons of oil on behalf of Shahriari and Ghasemi.
The IRGC official Azim Monzavi worked with Shahriyari to arrange payments for oil from the Venezuelan state-owned oil and natural gas company, PDVSA. Meanwhile the Iran-based IRGC associate Esam Ettehadi reportedly brokered oil sales to companies in China and Russia.
A cluster of mainland China- and Hong Kong-based firms, including China Haokun Energy Limited, Petro China Pars Co (a joint benture between Iranian and Chinese firms), subsidiary Fujie Petrochemical Zhoushan Co. Ltd, China Haokun Energy Limited, and Shandong Sea Right Petrochemical Co, were all sanctioned for secretly buying hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of Iranian crude.
Three Turkish criminals and associates of the IRGC, Hakki Selcuk Sanli, Abdulhamid Celik, and Seyyid Cemal Gunduz, all based in Turkey, were also sanctioned for helping Shahriari hide some $6m worth of illicit gains, as well as millions of dollars' worth of gold and cash.
Sanli cofounded an IRGC-associated extremist organization known as Tawhid-Salam in the 1990s, of which Celik was also a member. Tawhid-Salam received funding through close collaboration with Quds Force officials in Turkey.
Sanli and Celik also served prison sentences in Turkey for their roles in the murder of two opponents of the Islamic Republic. Celik also worked with Tawhid-Salam, supplying a bomb for a 2011 attack in Istanbul which injured several people.
With Celik's help, Shahriari reportedly used a North Korea-based company owned by the Turkey-based Abdulaziz Kaskariy, Turkoca Import Export Transit Co. Ltd, as a pass-through to transfer millions of dollars.
A Hezbollah Front Company
Two officials in Hezbollah, Muhammad Qasim al-Bazzal and Muhammad Qasir, used the Lebanon-based firm Concepto Screen SAL Off-Shore to facilitate oil deals that OFAC believes benefitted both the Quds Force and its biggest regional proxy.
Brian E. Nelson, the Treasury's under-secretary for terrorism, stressed that Washington still sought "a mutual return to full implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action" but nonetheless would "not hesitate" to target outfits propping up either the Quds Force or Hezbollah.