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US charges 10 Iranians with evading sanctions

Suspects said to have conducted transactions on behalf of Tehran through over 70 front companies in US, Canada, UAE, and Hong Kong

Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks during a meeting with Iran's army's air force and air defense staff in Tehran, Iran, February 7, 2021. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)
Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks during a meeting with Iran's army's air force and air defense staff in Tehran, Iran, February 7, 2021. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

WASHINGTON — US authorities on Friday unveiled charges against 10 Iranians for allegedly evading American sanctions on Tehran by concealing more than $300 million in transactions over 20 years through front companies.

The individuals are believed to have conducted transactions on behalf of the Iranian government, including purchasing two $25 million oil tankers, through more than 70 front companies in the United States, Iran, Canada, the United Arab Emirates and Hong Kong, the Justice Department said in a statement.

The suspects, who were also slapped with a money-laundering fine of more than $157 million, are believed to be outside the United States.

“Through the use of front companies, money service businesses and exchanges throughout the world, the defendants worked to disguise hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of transactions on behalf of a state sponsor of terrorism,” John Demers, assistant attorney general for national security, was quoted as saying.

“Make no mistake, the Department of Justice will continue to deploy all tools necessary to curb the Iranian regime’s ability to use the US financial system to support its malign endeavors,” he said.

If convicted of the conspiracy charge, the defendants face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Iran is subject to US economic sanctions, with former president Donald Trump aggressively using the measures to punish the Islamic republic. Trump in 2018 pulled the US out of the nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 world powers, signed in 2015 to lift sanctions in exchange for Tehran curbing its nuclear program.

In recent months, Iran has repeatedly taken steps to violate the deal and turn up the heat on the US, including by enriching uranium past the accord’s limits and barring UN inspections of its nuclear facilities.

The Biden administration has repeatedly said the US will return to the JCPOA, as the accord is formally called, if Tehran first returns to compliance. Iran has insisted the US remove sanctions before it returns to the deal’s terms, putting the two sides at a stalemate.

Israeli and US officials agreed to set up a joint team for sharing intelligence about Iran’s nuclear program during recent strategic talks, according to a report this week.

Talks last week were the first held by a bilateral group for cooperating in the effort to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear arms. The meeting was led by US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and his Israeli counterpart Meir Ben-Shabbat.

Israeli National Security Council chairman Meir Ben-Shabbat (right), and US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. (Flash90, AP)

Citing three senior Israeli officials, the Axios news site reported that Israel’s initial objective was to get on the same page with the Biden administration concerning intelligence on Iran. The officials said they were satisfied by the first round of discussions.

“We are on the same page on the intelligence. There are small nuances but overall, they see data the same way. It was very positive, but it is only the beginning of a process. It will be a rollercoaster,” one of the officials was quoted saying.

Sullivan pledged to the Israelis the US would be transparent about any decisions regarding Iran and said he expects transparency in return, according to the officials, who also said the American national security adviser was upfront about the difficulties of engaging in diplomacy with Iran.

The Israeli officials also said they hoped Iran would continue to rebuff US entreaties and that the pain of American sanctions would lead the Iranians to first offer concessions.

A second meeting dealing with Iran’s regional activities and missile program will be held in the coming weeks, the officials added.

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