US Citizen Shipowner Sentenced to Jail for Violating Iranian Sanctions

Iran sanctions
Businessman acquired two LPG tankers used to avoid U.S. sanctions on Iran (file photo)

Published Jul 27, 2023 3:38 PM by The Maritime Executive

An Iranian-American businessman who operated LPG tankers and a shipping company as a front company for illicit business with Iran was sentenced by a U.S. District Court to 41 months in jail along with forfeiture of millions of dollars in cash and property for violating U.S. sanctions. U.S. prosecutors are highlighting that the shipowner and importer knowingly conducted the business with Iran without the required licenses or permission from the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.

Behrouz Mokhtari, age 72 of McLean Virginia, is an Iranian and naturalized American citizen who held management positions and/or maintained ownership control of numerous businesses in Iran and the United Arab Emirates. Prosecutors charged that he and his co-conspirators illegally provided services to Iranian entities between 2013 and 2020, including refining and transporting petrochemical products to and from Iran and conducting financial transactions through bank accounts in the UAE. 

As part of the scheme, they established a front company in Panama called East & West Shipping, which acquired two LPG tankers for approximately $38 million. Between at least February 2013 and June 2017, they conducted shipments of the petrochemical products including using the U.S. financial systems to facilitate the shipments in violation of the sanctions. Another shipping company, Greenline Shipholding, was later created to further conceal the activity. 

One of the LPG carriers in approximately 2017 was transferred to yet a third company, Russel Shipping and later sold for scrap at a value of more than $3.1 million. Mokhtari received more than $2.8 million from the proceeds of the sale and used more than $1.5 million to acquire a home in California. After the sale of the tanker, from 2018 to 2020 he continued to do additional business deals on behalf of Iran.

“This defendant knew that he was prohibited from engaging in business with Iran, but did so anyway and attempted to conceal his actions through his control of businesses and financial entities in Iran and the United Arab Emirates,” said United States Attorney Erek Barron.  “Now, he will not only serve time in federal prison, he will forfeit cash and property purchased with his ill-gotten proceeds.”

U.S. District Judge Lydia Griggsby sentenced Mokhtari on July 25 to spend 41 months in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release. In addition, he was ordered to forfeit over $2.8 million in proceeds derived from the activities as well as the home purchased in California. He had been facing a maximum of 10 years in jail.

Mokhtari pleaded guilty in January 2023 to two counts of conspiracy to violate the International Emergency Economics Power Act. At the time, he admitted that he knew that, as a U.S. citizen, engaging in business with Iranian entities without first obtaining a license or permission from OFAC is prohibited. He further knew that it was illegal to engage in transactions intended to evade Iranian sanctions, or to engage in transactions related to goods and services of Iranian origin or export.