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U.S. sanctions sprawling Russia-backed Iranian oil smuggling network

U.S. sanctions sprawling Russia-backed Iranian oil smuggling network
The Treasury under Secretary Janet Yellen on Wednesday sanctioned 10 people and nine companies on accusations of being part of an Iranian oil smuggling network. Photo by Graeme Jennings/UPI | License Photo

May 25 (UPI) -- The United States on Wednesday sanctioned a sprawling international oil smuggling and money laundering network that the Biden administration said is led by Iran's elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' Qods Force and is supported by Russia.

The U.S. departments of Treasury and State announced the blacklisting of 10 people from four countries and nine companies based in six nations Wednesday, describing the network as having facilitated the sale of hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of Iranian oil for the IRGC-QF and Hezbollah, an Iran-backed militant group based in Lebanon. Both groups have been U.S. designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations.

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The United States said the network is run by two U.S. sanctioned individuals -- IRGC-QF official Behnam Shahriyari and former official Rostam Ghasemi -- and that there efforts are supported by senior levels of the Russian government as well as state-run organizations.

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The sanctions were imposed as the Biden administration seeks to resurrect a multination nuclear accord that aimed to deny Tehran from developing an atomic weapon that former President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from in 2018.

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Ned Price, the State Department spokesman, told reporters during a press briefing on Wednesday that the Biden administration has been clear about its intentions of wanting to implementation the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in full but that it will not tolerate the illicit activities of the IRGC-QF or its proxies.

"We're continuing down this dual path to attempt to put these strict limits back on Iran's nuclear program just as we push back and hold Iran accountable for its other illicit activities, but also knowing that if and when we permanently and verifiably have Iran's nuclear program once again contained and confined, we are going to be able to take on these other challenges together with our allies and partners ... much more effectively," he said.

Among those sanctioned Wednesday include Kamaluddin Gulam Nabizada, a former Afghanistan ministry official in Moscow, who is accused of raising money for the IRGC-QF with the help of senior Russian government and intelligence officials.

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He was also the manager of Moscow-based RPP Limited Liability Company, which the Biden administration sanctioned on accusations of transferring millions of dollars from Russia for the IRGC-QF.

Mihrab Suhrab Hamidi, the current RPP LLC manager of oil sales and transport, was also hit with sanctions.

Zamanoil DMCC, a company based in the United Arab Emirates, was also blacklisted for working to ship Iranian oil to Europe with the Russian government and state-owned Rosneft, which was previously sanctioned by the United States.

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Several Iran-based individuals were targeted for being facilitators for the IRGC-QF as well as as several Turkey-based individuals and companies, including one in South Korea, that the Treasury accused of acting as a money laundering network for the espionage arm of the Iran military.

A Hezbollah front company in Lebanon was also sanctioned as were several Chinese companies accused of being involved in the sale and purchase of tens of millions of dollars' worth of Iranian oil.

The sanctions came less than a week after the Treasury sanctioned a Lebanese businessman and his network of associates and companies on accusations he uses it to fund Hezbollah.

"While the United States continues to seek a mutual return to full implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, we will strictly enforce sanctions on Iran's illicit oil trade," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. "We will not hesitate to target those who provide critical support for the IRGC and Hezbollah and facilitate their access to the international financial system."

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