Nov. 3 (BP) — The administration of President Joe Biden imposed Iran-related sanctions Thursday targeting a large international smuggling network accused of aiding the Lebanon-based Hezbollah and the elite wing of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to sell and ship Persian oil.
The U.S. Departments of Treasury and State announced the sanctions against six people, 17 companies and 11 vessels they accuse of working to conceal the Iranian origins of oil shipments they export worldwide for the benefit of the regime-backed militant group and the IRGC’s Quds Force, which have both been previously blacklisted by the United States.
“The individuals running this illicit network use a web of shell companies and fraudulent tactics, including document falsification, to obfuscate the origins of Iranian oil, sell it on the international market and evade sanctions,” Brian Nelson, the Under Secretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a statement.
U.S. officials said the Gulf-based network has been operating since at least the middle of the year, blending and exporting the valuable resource, and involved dozens of companies.
Among those targeted with asset freezes and travel bands is Edman Nafrieh, a 42-year-old Iranian national who officials said receives orders from high-ranking Iranian officials close to the office of Iran’s U.S.-sanctioned spiritual leader Ali Khamenei to direct the profits from the smuggling network to companies and banks connected to Hezbollah and the IRGC’s Quds Force.
Viktor Artemov, a 47-year-old Ukrainian national based in Switzerland, was also hit Thursday on accusations that he used his “vast, complex and interwoven global network of front companies” to illegally transport Iranian oil and procure funds for the two sanctioned Iranian groups, the Treasury said.
Those sanctioned Thursday “leveraged dozens of companies under their control to facilitate the network’s activities,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
Blinken, the top diplomat in the U.S., said that the network “has facilitated the sale of hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of oil for” Hezbollah and the IRGC’s Quds Force.
Hezbollah was designated as a foreign terrorist organization in 1997 by the United States, with the IRGC being blacklisted as the same in April 2019.
The IRGC’s Quds Force is Iran’s primary tool to cultivate and support terrorists abroad, according to the State Department.
The sanctions come as the Biden administration has repeatedly imposed punitive measures against Iran since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was killed in mid-September in Iranian police custody after being detained on allegations of violating the country’s strict hijab laws.
Her death sparked ongoing anti-regime protests in the Middle Eastern nation, which have been confronted by a bloody government crackdown, resulting in the deaths of at least 277 people, including 40 minors, according to the Oslo-based Iran Human Rights organization.
The Biden administration had already been squeezing its financial vices on Iran to force it to negotiate a new deal that aims to prevent Tehran from securing nuclear arms, but since Amini was killed Sept. 16, the United States has increased the frequency it has imposed punitive measures targeting Iran.
Late last month, the U.S. sanctioned the 15 Khordad Foundation, which in 1989 put a bounty on the head of author Salman Rushdie over his book The Satanic Verses. In late September, they hit an Iranian petrochemical network. And after Amini was killed, the Biden administration sanctioned Iran’s Guidance Patrol.