Blacklisted oil shipping network supported IRGC Quds Force and Hizbullah

By Al-Mashareq

This picture taken on June 15, 2019, shows tanker ships in the waters of the Gulf of Oman off the coast of the eastern UAE emirate of Fujairah. [Guiseppe Cacace/AFP]

This picture taken on June 15, 2019, shows tanker ships in the waters of the Gulf of Oman off the coast of the eastern UAE emirate of Fujairah. [Guiseppe Cacace/AFP]

The United States on Thursday (November 3) sanctioned an international oil smuggling network that facilitated oil trades and generated revenue for Hizbullah and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force (IRGC-QF).

The network comprises facilitators, front companies and vessels involved in blending oil to conceal the Iranian origins of the shipments and exporting it around the world, the US Treasury said in a statement.

Network facilitators "use a web of shell companies and fraudulent tactics including document falsification to obfuscate the origins of Iranian oil", said Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson.

Iranian oil is then sold on the international market, he said, evading sanctions.

"Market participants should be vigilant of Hizbullah and the IRGC-QF's attempts to generate revenue from oil smuggling to enable their terrorist activities around the world," he said.

The United States on May 25 blacklisted another international oil smuggling and money laundering network led by IRGC-QF officials and supported by the Russian government and state-run economic organisations.

That network had facilitated the sale of hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of Iranian oil to profit the IRGC-QF and Lebanese Hizbullah, the US Treasury said.

Gulf-based network

As of mid-2022, a Gulf-based network of individuals and front companies was blending and exporting Iranian oil in support of Hizbullah and the IRGC-QF, the Treasury said.

Four of the six blacklisted individuals -- Viktor Artemov, Edman Nafrieh, Rouzbeh Zahedi and Mohamed El Zein -- leveraged dozens of companies under their control to conduct the network's illicit activities.

The other two, Tatiana Ryabikova and Gregorio Fazzone, were corporate officials and employees.

"The network used storage units in the Port of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and blended products of Indian origin with Iranian oil to obfuscate the Iranian origin," the Treasury said.

"The companies then modified or created counterfeit certificates of origin and quality for the blended oil, which was then transferred for sale abroad."

Nafrieh, an Iranian national who chairs the Gilda Tar Karvan International Company, oversaw a network of dozens of companies that supported the network's illegal blending and export of Iranian oil.

He received orders from high-ranking Iranian officials associated with the office of Iranian leader Ali Khamenei to direct the network's profits to companies and bank accounts associated with Hizbullah and the IRGC-QF.

Another Iranian, Zahedi, worked with the network to help transport the Iranian oil abroad, using his companies to transfer funds to IRGC-QF and Hizbullah.

He worked in close co-ordination with El Zein, a Hizbullah member who also was part of the oil smuggling network and the son of a high-ranking Hizbullah communications director.

El Zein used forged invoices for consulting and shipping services from shell companies to hide the origin of financial transactions.

"Artemov oversees much of this vast network of cover companies and shipping services to receive, conceal and sell oil," the Treasury said.

He used his companies to buy and sell oil tankers that were then used to transport blended Iranian oil on behalf of the oil smuggling network, and also planned oil sales to Asia-based buyers with Muhammad Ibrahim Bazzi.

Bazzi is a key Hizbullah financier who was blacklisted by the United States in May 2018.

Illicit oil shipments

The blacklisted individuals owned, operated or controlled 17 entities and 11 vessels that the United States has blocked for providing support to terrorists or acts of terrorism, the US State Department said.

These include Ava Petroleum and Petro Naviero, companies overseen by Artemov that, via numerous subsidiaries, had control of vessels used for illicit shipments.

Vessels used to transport illicit oil shipments include the Julia A, Bueno, Bluefins, Boceanica, B Luminosa, Lara I, Adisa, Nolan and Zephyr I.

The Artemov network often used vessels flagged in jurisdictions less attentive to ship tracking system inactivity to avoid scrutiny from authorities, with companies registered in the Marshall Islands, Mauritius and Singapore.

Artemov was involved in authorising the purchase and sale of oil tankers worth as much as $30 million on behalf of Centrum Maritime, a company he managed, which were used to transport oil for the oil smuggling network.

He also owned or managed Energotrade Plus DMCC, Intrepid Navigators and Rising Tide Shipping, which he used to reinvest funds from the oil smuggling operations into the acquisition of new vessels to increase the network's fleet.

Shipping management companies and vessels that support the network's activities include Monumont Ship Management Ltd, Harbour Ship Management Ltd, Expanse Ship Management Ltd and Blue Berri Shipping Incorporated.

Front companies, falsified data

The oil smuggling network also used Al Hakeel Al Aswad Oil Trading LLC, a front company managed by Artemov's partner, Nafrieh, to facilitate its illicit oil shipments, the Treasury said.

Al Hakeel sold Iranian oil to Ava Petroleum and to Centrum Maritime, which has purchased approximately 400,000 barrels of crude from Al-Hakeel.

Artemov associate El Zein also was involved in co-ordinating the purchase of crude from Al Hakeel.

Pontus Navigation Corp. and Triton Navigation Corp., subsidiaries of Centrum Maritime, have been used to arrange ownership of oil vessels, including the Nolan and Adisa.

Technology Bright, incorporated in the Marshall Islands, owns one vessel, the Young Yong, which is flagged in Djibouti. The ship's captain is accused of falsifying the ship's location data.

Another shell company incorporated in the Marshall Islands, Azul Vista Shipping Corp., owns one vessel, the Liberia-flagged Julia A, which is managed by Monumont Ship Management.

As of mid-2021, Ava Petroleum co-ordinated an oil shipment to China on Julia A.

Similarly, the Vista Clara Shipping Corporation is incorporated in the Marshall Islands and owns one Liberia-flagged vessel, the Lara I, also managed by Monumont Ship Management.

Lara I has been involved in transporting sanctioned oil and conducting illicit ship to ship transfers near Singapore.

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