US sells a million barrels of Iranian oil seized under sanctions

A US Department of Justice spokesman said the seized Iranian oil had been sold and the proceeds would go to the US Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund.

Iranian oil tanker Grace 1 departed from Gibraltar in 2018, after local authorities denied the US request of seizing the ship and its cargo [File: A. Carrasco Ragel/EPA] (EPA)

The United States has sold more than a million barrels of Iranian fuel seized under its sanctions programme last year, a Department of Justice official said, as another ship with intercepted Iranian crude oil sails to a US port.

The seizures are part of Washington’s tough economic sanctions on Tehran imposed over its nuclear programme and the US designation of a number of Iranian groups as “terrorists”, continuing decades of rancour between the two nations. Iran rejects US accusations of wrongdoing.

In a new approach last year, the administration of former US President Donald Trump used civil forfeiture procedures to seize some 1.2 million barrels of gasoline it said were being sent from Iran to Venezuela aboard four tankers.

The shipments, the largest seizure by Washington of Iranian fuel to date, were transferred to other vessels and sent to the US, where the fuel was meant to be sold and the proceeds distributed to a fund for US victims of “state-sponsored terrorism”.

Department of Justice spokesman Marc Raimondi told Reuters news agency this week that the sale of the cargoes had been completed, adding that the government was “still working out the final expenses”.

“The petroleum has been seized, and an interlocutory sale has preserved the cash value of the petroleum, which is now held by the US Marshals Service,” he said. The value of the gasoline was not known but was likely worth tens of millions of dollars based on benchmark European gasoline prices.

Raimondi said the department still needs the US District Court in Washington, DC to enter an order of forfeiture “and then the funds will be transferred to the US Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund”.

The fund was established by the US government in 2015 to award compensation to individuals who suffered harm resulting from the acts of those designated by the US as “state sponsors of terrorism”.

Last week, the US filed a lawsuit to seize another cargo, this one of crude oil it says came from Iran — rather than Iraq, as stated on the bill of lading — contravening US terrorism regulations.

That cargo, loaded onto the Liberian-flagged Achilleas tanker, was last reported in Caribbean waters. The US Gulf port of Galveston, Texas was its destination with a scheduled arrival on February 15, Refinitiv ship tracking data showed on Wednesday.

Pilots groups in Galveston and Houston, Texas said they have not been informed of the Achilleas’s arrival or which agent will handle unloading the cargo.

Iran has not commented on the tanker as yet.

Relations between Washington and Tehran worsened under Trump. His administration pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers, imposed more sanctions on Tehran and killed the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force in a January 2020 air strike.

US President Joe Biden supports returning to diplomacy with Iran if it comes into compliance with the 2015 nuclear accord. But this week he said the US will not lift its economic sanctions on Iran in order to get Tehran back to the negotiating table to discuss how to revive the deal.

Source: Reuters