US says it disrupts illicit oil shipment by Iran’s IRGC, seizes contraband crude

HOUSTON (Reuters) -The U.S. on Friday confirmed it disrupted in April a multimillion-dollar shipment of crude oil by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, seizing more than 980,000 barrels of contraband crude oil that violated U.S. sanctions.

In a sanctions enforcement operation, the U.S. confiscated cargo onboard the Suez Rajan, a Marshall Islands tanker, which was carrying Iranian oil at sea. The vessel was unloaded last month after waiting 2-1/2 months off the coast of Texas to discharge.

The “illicit sale and transport of Iranian oil” violated sanctions targeting Iran, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) said in a statement that for the first time acknowledged its role.

The Suez Rajan Ltd company pleaded guilty in April and was sentenced by to three years of corporate probation and a fine of almost $2.5 million, according to legal documents.

Empire Navigation, the operating company of the vessel carrying the contraband cargo, agreed to cooperate and transport the Iranian oil to the United States, the DOJ added, calling it the first criminal resolution to such a sanctions-violating sale.

Greece-based Empire Navigation did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“It’s a message to every Iranian smuggler that there is an off ramp from the mob,” said Mark Wallace, chief executive of U.S. advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran, which uses satellite images to track tanker movement and first noted that the Suez Rajan had taken on the oil from another tanker.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington DC, Arathy Somasekhar in Houston, Jonathan Saul in London; Editing by David Gregorio)