Friday, December 2, 2022

U.S. seizes websites that facilitated multi-million dollar fuel shipment between Iran and Venezuela

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The United States Justice Department on Friday announced the seizure of three websites used by what it described as “‘three front companies” – Mobin International, Sohar Fuel, and Oman Fuel, that arranged a multimillion dollar fuel shipment by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), “a designated foreign terrorist organization”, that was bound for Venezuela. 

On July 2, 2020, the United States filed a complaint seeking to forfeit all petroleum-product cargo aboard four foreign-flagged oil tankers, including the M/T Bella with international maritime organization (IMO) number 9208124, the M/T Bering with IMO number 9149225, the M/T Pandi with IMO number 9105073, and the M/T Luna with IMO number 9208100.  A seizure order for the cargo from all four vessels was issued by U.S. District Court Judge Boasberg of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

On Aug. 14, 2020, the United States announced that it successfully executed the seizure order and confiscated the cargo from all four vessels, totaling approximately 1.116 million barrels of petroleum.  With the assistance of foreign partners, this seized property is now in U.S. custody.  

The Justice Department said 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 (http://www.usvsst.com/) after the conclusion of the case.

The forfeiture complaint alleged how Mohammad Madanipour used a web of front companies, including Mobin International to perpetrate this scheme. 

The websites for Mobin International and related front companies, Sohar Fuel, and Oman Fuel, now display the following splash page noting control by the U.S. government:

The Justice Department said pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 2232, interfering with lawful execution of the United States seizure order may subject a party to criminal penalties for interfering with the jurisdiction of the U.S. District Court for District of Columbia over the petroleum cargo.

According to the Justice Department, a warrant for arrest and civil forfeiture complaint are merely allegations.  The burden to prove forfeitability in a civil forfeiture proceeding is upon the government.

HSI’s Colorado Springs and FBI’s Minneapolis field office are investigating the case. The case is being handled by the National Security Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia. The Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section is managing the seizure and forfeiture process.  Assistant U.S Attorneys Zia M. Faruqui, Brian Hudak, Stuart Allen, and Jessi Brooks, and National Security Division Trial Attorney David Lim are litigating the case, with assistance from Paralegal Specialists Elizabeth Swienc, Legal Assistant Jessica McCormick, and Records Examiner Angela De Falco.

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