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US sells off Iranian crude oil seized off coast of UAE

The US has sold some 2 million barrels of Iranian crude oil after seizing an oil tanker off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, court documents and government statistics show.

The Iranian crude oil showed up in new figures released over the weekend by the US Energy Information Agency, raising the eyebrows of commodities traders as Tehran remains targeted by a series of American sanctions. The EIA figures included just over 1 million barrels of Iranian “crude oil imports” in March.

The oil came from the MT Achilleas, a ship seized in February by the US off the coast of the Emirati port city of Fujairah. US court documents allege the Achilleas was subject to forfeiture under American anti-terrorism statues as Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard tried to use it to sell crude oil to China. The US has identified the Guard as a terrorist organization since the administration of former president Donald Trump.

Prosecutors say shippers tried to disguise the shipment by labeling it as “Basra light crude” from neighboring Iraq.

The US government brought the Achilleas to Houston, Texas, where it sold the just over 2 million barrels of crude oil within it for $110 million, or at around $55 a barrel, court documents show. The money will be held in escrow amid a court case over it.

When asked Monday about the case, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said he had “no details” about it. “Since the time of the former US president, Mr. Bill Clinton, no oil has been purchased from Iran because of their laws,” Khatibzadeh says.

At the height of trade with Iran, in July 1977, the US imported some 26.5 million barrels of crude oil from Iran, then under the rule of the American-allied Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The aftermath of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran saw those sales plummet to zero in the months that followed.

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