Two Iranians Charged in Connection With Crude Tanker Purchase

NITC-owned tankers (file image courtesy Hamidreza Norouzi)

Published May 4, 2020 8:57 PM by The Maritime Executive

Two Iranian nationals have been charged with violating U.S. export laws by conspiring to help Iran buy a VLCC. Amir Dianat, 55, and Kamran Lajmiri, 42, allegedly helped Iranian front companies to purchase the 300,000 dwt tanker Nautic in September 2019. Prosecutors allege that the defendants concealed from their bankers, the U.S. government and the seller that the vessel was destined for Iranian ownership, in violation of American sanctions measures. If convicted, Dianat and Lajmiri could face a maximum of 20 years in prison. 

Prosecutors say that between May and December 2019, Dianat and Lajmiri conspired to purchase the Nautic (IMO 9323948, ex name Maersk Nautica) via a web of front companies, including a firm called Taif Mining. After sending the final wire payment to the seller, Taif Mining took possession of the vessel. She quickly changed her name from Nautic to Gulf Sky and began making trips to Iran to load Iranian petroleum, prosecutors asserted - a violation of U.S. sanctions on Iranian oil exports. 

Dainat and Lajmiri allegedly utilized the U.S. banking system to process the transaction with Iranian entities in U.S. dollars, an act forbidden by U.S. financial sanctions on Iran. U.S. financial institutions were not told that they were facilitating the purchase of a tanker for Iranian entities, prosecutors said. 

Ultimately, one of the banks froze the funds related to the sale of the vessel, and the seller never received payment. As a result, the seller filed suit in the U.A.E. to recover the vessel. 

Federal prosecutors have also filed a civil forfeiture complaint to seize funds totaling about $12.3 million. The civil forfeiture complaint alleges that the Taif Mining scheme involved the National Iranian Oil Company, the National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC) and the IRGC-Qods Force (IRGC-QF), all of which are blacklisted by the U.S. Treasury.  The U.S. has designated the IRGC - a division of Iran's military - as a foreign terrorist organization.  

“These defendants purchased a crude oil tanker valued at over $10 million by illegally using the U.S. financial system, defiantly violating U.S. sanctions,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers. “This is yet another example of Iran brazenly using front companies and false documentation in an attempt to hide the illegal transactions that the Iranian regime desperately needs to fund its malign activities."

A separate action was filed by the Department of the Treasury to sanction Dianat and Taif Mining.

As of Monday, the vessel was southbound off Ningbo, operating with new ownership, a new name and a new destination - Fujairah.