By Yashwant Raj
Source: Hindustan Times
The United States on Wednesday designated Mumbai-based Mehdi Group, its subsidiaries and two offices in Singapore and the UAE, several officials and ships among 16 entities, and 10 individuals alleged to be a part of an “oil-for-terror shipping network” run by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF).
The US department of treasury said the Mehdi Group and its director, Ali Zaheer Mehdi, “have managed vessels and found additional ones to move Iranian oil”.
The group’s three Indian subsidiaries named were Bushra Ship Management Private Limited, Khadija Ship Management Private Limited and Vaniya Ship Management Private Limited. And the off-shore branches were Singapore-based Mehdi Offshore and Ship Management Pte. Ltd. (Mehdi Offshore) and United Arab Emirates (UAE)-based Penta Ocean Ship Management & Operation LLC (Penta Ocean).
The officials named were group director Ali Zaheer Mehdi and Anuj Bhardwaj, Ali Ghadeer Mehdi and Zafar Anis Ishteyaq Hussain for operating on behalf of the group or its subsidiaries.
The United States had earlier sanction Akhilesh Kumar, the Indian national who is captain of the Adrian Darya I, a ship carrying Iranian oil that has been at the centre of an ongoing international confrontation.
The United States has said that the IRGC-QF, which it had earlier designated as a foreign terrorist organization, sells Iranian oil using companies such as those named above to crew and operate ships and tankers, to fund the country’s alleged proxies such as the Hezbollah and allies like Syria’s Bashar-al-Assad, and has moved oil worth hundreds of millions of dollars for their benefit in the past one year alone.
“Iran continues to take provocative actions to destabilize the region and the world. Treasury’s action against this sprawling petroleum network makes it explicitly clear that those purchasing Iranian oil are directly supporting Iran’s militant and terrorist arm, the IRGC-Qods Force,” said US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in a statement.
Sigal Mandelker, Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, added, “This vast oil-for-terror shipping network demonstrates how economically reliant Tehran is on the IRGC-QF and Hizballah as financial lifelines.”
Separately, the US state department announced a reward of $15 million on Wednesday for information leading to the disruption of the “financial mechanisms” deployed by the IRGS-QF to raise money, including through illicit oil sales through oil tankers like the Adrian Darya 1 designated last week.
Others designated on Wednesday included Rostam Qasemi, a former Iranian petroleum minister and an IRGC-QF official, who the US has alleged “manages a group of individuals, shipping and oil companies, and vessels to sell Iranian crude, condensates, and gas oil”. They have sought to pass off Iranian oil as of Iraqi-origin, the US said further.
As a result of the Wednesday sanctions, properties and assets owned by the designated individuals and entities in the US or in areas under its jurisdiction will be frozen and people who deal with them will be exposed to similar designations. The US also warned that foreign financial institutions knowingly conductions significant transactions with them could be sanctioned.
The United States pulled out the Iran deal — called the joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — in 2018 and has slapped severe sanctions on Iran to force it to abandon its nuclear weapons and ballistics programmes and end “malign activities” in the region. And the two countries have been eye-ball-to-eyeball in an escalating military tensions.