DOJ Announces ‘Largest-Ever’ Seizure of Iranian Oil in Violation of Sanctions

August 14, 2020 Updated: August 14, 2020

The Justice Department (DOJ) on Friday confirmed the United States seized a significant amount of fuel shipments in four tankers from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to Venezuela.

Approximately 1.116 million barrels of petroleum were confiscated in what was described as the “largest-ever” seizure, according to DOJ officials.

“With the assistance of foreign partners, this seized property is now in U.S. custody,” the agency said. “After enforcement of the U.S. forfeiture order, Iran’s navy forcibly boarded an unrelated ship in an apparent attempt to recover the seized petroleum, but was unsuccessful.”

It came after the United States filed a complaint that sought to force four foreign-flagged oil tankers, including the M/T Bella, the M/T Bering, the M/T/ Pandi, and the M/T Luna last month. Officials said the oil product shipments were in violation of U.S. sanctions.

Authorities found that the four ships were assets of the Revolutionary Guards, a designated foreign terrorist organization.

“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,” the agency said.

Iran had planned to transport the gasoline to Venezuela, a supply line that both Tehran and Caracas have flaunted in defiance of U.S. sanctions. Washington has imposed sanctions on both countries to choke oil exports and deprive their governments of their main source of revenue.

The U.S. Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, and State Department declined to comment on the record on Thursday. Neither Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA nor Venezuela’s oil or information ministries responded to requests for comment.

Gen. Qassem Soleimani
Commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, in Tehran, Iran, on Sept. 14, 2013. (Mehdi Ghasemi/ISNA/AFP via Getty Images)

The United States has previously threatened to impose sanctions on any shipowners and vessels involved in oil trade with Venezuela and Iran.

Over the past several months, tensions between the United States and Iran have intensified following a series of incidents. Iran briefly seized the British-flagged Grace 1 tanker, accusing it of violating sanctions.

Months later, the United States authorized the airstrike that killed Qassem Soleimani, a top Revolutionary Guards official and head of the shadowy Quds Force, near Baghdad. Iran then fired a barrage of missiles at U.S. military bases in Iraq, causing dozens of minor injuries.

Last month, Iran’s government issued an arrest warrant for President Donald Trump over the death of Soleimani, but U.S. officials told Fox News that it is merely a “propaganda stunt that no one takes seriously.” Soleimani is accused of playing a role in the deaths of hundreds of U.S. soldiers in the region, and he was accused of plotting future attacks on U.S. assets.

Reuters contributed to this report