Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Largest Ever Cache of Iranian Oil Seized by US in Forfeiture Prosecution

Multi-Million Dollar Export to Venezuela Now in Custody
Shipping News Feature

US – The US authorities, which on 2 July filed a complaint seeking to forfeit all petroleum-product cargo aboard four foreign-flagged oil tankers, obtained a seizure order and last week successfully executed the seizure order and confiscated the cargo from all four vessels, totalling approximately 1.116 million barrels of petroleum.

The oil, now in US custody, is valued at in excess of $50 million and emanated from Iran, something that country strenuously, and unsuccessfully, denied. The four Liberian ships the M/Ts Bella, Bering, Pandi and Luna were reportedly en route to Venezuela.

Funds successfully forfeited with a connection to a state sponsor of terrorism may in whole or in part be directed to the United States Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund (USVSSTF) after the conclusion of the case. The US argued that the oil was under the control of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a designated foreign terrorist organisation.

The seizure order for the cargo from all four vessels was issued by US District Court Judge Jeb Boasberg of the US District Court for the District of Columbia. A warrant for arrest and civil forfeiture complaint are merely allegations, the burden to prove a case for seizure and retention in a civil forfeiture proceeding is upon the government.

No sooner had the Court decision been arrived at than what is being linked by the Americans to an attempt to recover the petroleum occurred. Two Iranian naval vessels and a Sikorsky SH-3 Sea King helicopter seized another tanker, the M/T Wila in the Gulf of Oman. A monochrome video, released by US Central Command shows the boarding of a vessel.

No communications from the Wila were received, either before, during or after the seizure and the Iranian troops apparently left the ship, also flagged in Liberia, after just 5 or so hours. This is suspected to be the third such similar occurrence in the past week or so and the true meaning of such a move is unclear.

In the case of the seized oil assets the ongoing case will now be pursued by US Homeland Security Investigation’s Colorado Springs office and FBI’s Minneapolis field office and handled by the National Security Division and the US Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia.