Three Firms Sue to Recover Iranian Fuel Seized by U.S. Government

iranian tanker
An Iranian product tanker approaches a receiving terminal in Venezuela, May 25, 2020 (Mehr News)

Published Sep 2, 2020 10:16 PM by The Maritime Executive

Three firms have laid claim to ownership of the Iranian-origin fuel cargoes recently seized at sea by the United States government over suspected sanctions violations. 

The U.S. Justice Department filed suit to seize four Iranian gasoline cargoes totaling 1.1 million barrels in July. According to the complaint, the shipments were intended for delivery to Venezuela and were set up by Iranian national Mahmoud Madanipour, who allegedly has ties to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The Iranian and Venezuelan petroleum sectors are both covered by strict American sanctions measures. 

Tehran has admitted that the fuel cargoes were loaded at an Iranian terminal, but it maintains that it had already sold the fuel and was not its owner at the time of seizure. The ships carrying the cargoes were all foreign-flagged and foreign-owned; their operators handed the cargoes over voluntarily using ship-to-ship transfer to U.S.-chartered tankers. The vessels involved - identified as the Bella, Bering, Pandi and Luna - were not seized in the action. 

On Tuesday, three trading companies identified themselves as the purchasers of the Iranian fuel in a civil filing with the U.S. District Court for D.C. The firms - which named themselves as Mobin International Ltd., Oman Fuel and Sohar Fuel - said that they had purchased and then resold the cargoes to a UAE-based company, Citi Energy FZC. They were expecting to receive payment upon delivery for the shipments, which were "destined for Trinidad for sale to customers in Peru and Colombia," the firms asserted. 

The firms have additional legal troubles ahead. This week, the website domains for Mobin, Oman Fuel and Sohar Fuel were seized by the U.S. government and blocked. Their public-facing contents have been replaced with a warning message notifying the visitor that the firms are under investigation for allegedly "providing material support or resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization." The U.S. considers the Iranian government's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a foreign terrorist organization, and the IRGC has extensive interests in Iran's oil and gas industry.