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.


Trump calls for investigation into allegations of voter fraud in Minnesota

Updated 29 September 2020

Trump calls for investigation into allegations of voter fraud in Minnesota

  • Right-wing website claims activists linked to Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s campaign are involved in illegal ‘ballet harvesting’

US: US President Donald Trump on Monday called on the Justice Department to investigate allegations of illegal voting activity by activists linked to Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s campaign.

The claims were made in a story published on Sunday by right-wing website Project Veritas, the founder and CEO of which is Conservative activist James O’Keefe. It alleges that workers with connections to Omar were involved in illegal “ballot harvesting” in Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District, which she has represented since 2019, and that some voters were paid to vote for Democratic candidates.

Ballot harvesting refers to a practice in which a third party collects completed absentee ballots from voters’ homes and drops them off at polling stations. This is not illegal in many states, but there are often limits on how many ballots one person can harvest.

In a message posted on Twitter, Trump said: “This is totally illegal. Hope that the U.S. Attorney in Minnesota has this, and other of her many misdeeds, under serious review??? If not, why not???”

The Project Veritas story, which was published on the same day as the New York Times published details of Trump’s tax returns, includes details of a series of videos it said was posted on Snapchat in early July by Liban Mohammed, the brother of Minneapolis City Council member Jamal Osman. In them, he talks about harvesting ballots to help his brother in an Aug. 11 city council election.

He said, in a mix of English and Somali: “Money is everything. Money is the king in this world. If you got no money, you should not be here, period. You know what i am saying? Money is everything and a campaign is managed by money … numbers do not lie. Numbers do not lie.

“You can see my car is full. All these here are absentee ballots … all of these are for Jamal Osman. Look, look. Just today we got 300 (ballots) for Jamal Osman.”

O’Keefe claimed that the extent of the ballot harvesting was astounding.

“Ballot harvesting is real and it has become a big business,” he said. “Our investigation into this ballot-harvesting ring demonstrates clearly how these unscrupulous operators exploit the elderly and immigrant communities — and have turned the sacred ballot box into a commodities trading desk.

“We are showing Americans what is really going on in one of our great cities — but, it's not me saying — we have the operators on tape saying it all themselves.”

Last month, Omar won the 5th Congressional District’s Democratic Primary and will face Republican Lacy Johnson in the Nov. 3, 2020 General Election. The district — which was previously held by Keith Ellison, who is now Minnesota’s Attorney General — is overwhelmingly Democratic and Omar is expected to easily win.

Omar’s office did not respond to a request for a comment about the Project Veritas story. Newsweek reported that a spokesperson for the congresswoman stated that Mohammed does not work for her.

In response to Trump’s tweet, Omar wrote: “Years of tax evasion … Trying to rush through the confirmation of a right-wing extremist Supreme Court nominee … Lies and inaction that have lead to the preventable deaths of 200,000 people. This is what we’re up against. Stay focused.”

Minnesota is one of several “battleground states” in the upcoming presidential election, in which the result is expected to be very close. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won the state with 46.4 percent of the vote to Trump’s 44.9 percent — a difference of only 44,593 votes.