US tries to seize Iranian gas heading toward Venezuela

A worker of oil company Pdvsa greets Venezuela's Oil Minister Tarek El Aissami during the arrival of the Iranian tanker ship "Fortune" at El Palito refinery in Puerto Cabello, Venezuela. (File/Reuters)
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Updated 02 July 2020

US tries to seize Iranian gas heading toward Venezuela

  • The Trump administration has been stepping up pressure on ship owners to abide by sanctions against US adversaries like Iran and Venezuela
  • As commercial traders increasingly shun Venezuela, Maduro's government has been turning to Iran

MIAMI: US federal prosecutors are seeking to seize four tankers sailing toward Venezuela with gasoline supplied by Iran, the latest attempt to disrupt ever-closer trade ties between the two heavily sanctioned anti-American allies.
The civil-forfeiture complaint filed late Wednesday in the District of Columbia federal court alleges that the sale was arranged by a businessman, Mahmoud Madanipour, with ties to Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, a US-designated foreign terrorist organization.
“The profits from these activities support the IRGC’s full range of nefarious activities, including the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery, support for terrorism, and a variety of human rights abuses, at home and abroad,” prosecutor Zia Faruqui alleges in the complaint.
Alireza Miryousefi, a spokesman for the Iranian mission to the United Nations, said any attempt by the US to prevent Iran's lawful trading with any country of its choosing would be an act of “piracy, pure and simple.”
“This is a direct threat to international peace and security and in contravention of international law including the UN Charter,” he said in a statement.
The Trump administration has been stepping up pressure on ship owners to abide by sanctions against US adversaries like Iran, Venezuela and North Korea. In May, it issued an advisory urging the global maritime industry to be on the lookout for tactics to evade sanctions like dangerous ship-to-ship transfers and the turning off of mandatory tracking devices — both techniques used in recent oil deliveries to and from both Iran and Venezuela.
The campaign appears to be working.
On Thursday, the US Treasury Department lifted sanctions on eight vessels that were recently found to have transported Venezuelan crude. The move followed an attempted auction Wednesday by federal marshals in Houston of 100,000 barrels of gasoline seized from a Greek-managed ship whose owner suspected the cargo was heading toward Venezuela. None of the five parties at the auction agreed to the minimum $2.5 million bid.
As commercial traders increasingly shun Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro's socialist government has been increasingly turning to Iran.
In May, Maduro celebrated the arrival of five Iranian tankers delivering badly needed fuel supplies to alleviate shortages that have led to days-long gas lines even in the capital, Caracas, which is normally spared such hardships. Despite sitting atop the world's largest crude reserves, Venezuela doesn't produce enough domestically-refined gasoline and has seen its overall crude production plunge to the lowest in over seven decades amid the ongoing crisis and fallout from US sanctions.
We are “two rebel nations, two revolutionary nations that will never kneel down before US imperialism,” Maduro said at the time. “Venezuela has friends in this world, and brave friends at that.”
The flotilla’s arrival angered the Trump administration, which struck back by sanctioning the five Iranian captains of the vessels.
The four tankers named in the complaint filed Wednesday — the Bella, Bering, Pandi and Luna — are currently transporting to Venezuela 1.1 million barrels of gasoline obtained via risky ship-to-ship transfers, prosecutors allege. Of the four, the Bella is currently sailing near the Philippines, ship tracking data shows, while the Pandi appears to have turned off its satellite tracking system on June 29 after having spent two weeks between Iran and the UAE. The other two were last spotted in May — the Bering near Greece and the Luna sailing between Oman and Iran.
One of the companies involved in the shipment to Venezuela, the Avantgarde Group, was previously linked to the Revolutionary Guard and attempts to evade US sanctions, according to prosecutors. An affiliate of Avantgarde facilitated the purchase for the Revolutionary Guard of the Grace 1, a ship seized last year by Britain on US accusations that it was transporting oil to Syria.
Iran denied the charges and the Grace 1 was eventually released. But the seizure nonetheless triggered an international standoff in which Iran retaliated by seizing a British-flagged vessel.
According to the asset forfeiture complaint, an unnamed company in February invoiced Avantgarde for a $14.9 million cash payment for the sale of the gasoline aboard the Pandi. Nonetheless, a text message between Mandanipour and an unnamed co-conspirator suggest the voyage had encountered difficulties.
“The ship owner doesn't want to go because of the American threat, but we want him to go, and we even agreed We will also buy the ship,” according to the message, an excerpt of which was included in the complaint.


Pakistan Hindus rally in Islamabad over India migrant deaths

Updated 25 September 2020

Pakistan Hindus rally in Islamabad over India migrant deaths

  • The dead migrants’ relatives have held small rallies in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province but this was the first time they had taken their demonstration to the country’s capital
  • The protesters accuse India’s secret service of poisoning the 11 Hindus

ISLAMABAD : Pakistan’s minority Hindus rallied late on Thursday in Islamabad, briefly clashing with the police, to protest the deaths of 11 members of a Hindu migrant family who died in India last month under mysterious circumstances.
Since then, the dead migrants’ relatives have held small rallies in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province but this was the first time they had taken their demonstration to the country’s capital, vowing to stage a sit-in near the Indian Embassy.
The protesters accuse India’s secret service of poisoning the 11 Hindus, who were found dead at a farmhouse in India’s Jodhpur district in Rajasthan state. The demonstrators arrived in Islamabad around midnight, chanting, “We want justice.” They briefly skirmished with officers who prevented them from reaching the embassy site.
After the Aug. 9 deaths, Indian media reports suggested the Hindu family members, originally from Pakistan, had taken their own lives. Official Islamabad says New Delhi had not shared any reports of the case.
Thursday’s rally was an unusual move for Pakistan’s Hindus, who have mostly lived without conflict with the country’s predominantly Muslim majority. Earlier this year under pressure from radical Muslims, Pakistani authorities halted construction of a Hindu temple in Islamabad.
Ramesh Kumar, a top leader of the Hindu community who led Thursday’s protest, met on Wednesday with Pakistan’s foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, seeking his help in pressuring India to release results of the initial police probe into the case.
Pakistan has also asked for access to a Hindu worker who was at the Jodhpur farm at the time of the deaths, according to government officials.
In his meeting with Qureshi, Kumar said Shrimati Mukhi, the daughter of the head of the family that died, had levelled the poisoning accusations. She earlier this month told local media that India allegedly pressured the family to issue a statement denouncing Pakistan’s government. There was no official comment from India on the allegations.
Last week, Pakistan summoned an Indian diplomat to convey concerns over the “Jodhpur incident.” A subsequent ministry statement said India had “failed to share any substantive details regarding the cause and circumstances of the deaths” of the Hindus and asked for a comprehensive investigation.
Nuclear armed rivals Pakistan and India have a history of bitter relations. Pakistan’s military said Wednesday that two of its soldiers were killed by Indian fire in a cease-fire violation in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir. The region is split between the two countries but claimed by both in its entirety. India and Pakistan have fought two out of their three wars over Kashmir since gaining independence in 1947.

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