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The United States imposed sanctions on an Omani businessman and companies to whom he's connected over allegations of involvement in an oil-smuggling network supporting the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC-QF).
The measures, announced Friday, come as talks to revive the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers have slowed down as the new administration led by President Ibrahim Raisi came into office in Tehran earlier this month.
The sanctions targeted Mahmood Rashid Amur Al Habsi, according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury a “foreign broker” accused of partnering with senior Quds Force officials to “facilitate shipments of Iranian oil to foreign customers, including buyers in East Asia."
Andrea M Gacki, director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control at the Treasury, said in a statement: “The IRGC-QF is using revenues from its Iranian petroleum sales to fund its malign activities at the expense of the Iranian people."
She further said that “these sales rely on key foreign intermediaries to obscure the IRGC-QF’s involvement, and Treasury will continue to disrupt and expose anyone supporting these efforts.”
The U.S. State Department echoed Gacki’s statement regarding the sanctions on Friday.
“As part of his oversight of shipping operations, Al Habsi has tampered with the automated identification systems that are onboard vessels, forged shipping documents, and paid bribes, circumventing restrictions related to Iran,” the Treasury Department said.
Sanctions will apply to four companies in Al Habsi’s shipping network – two firms based in Oman, one in Liberia and one in Romania.
The measures are based on Executive Order 13224, a 2001 decree meant to target the financing of foreign “terrorist” organisations. In an unprecedented move in 2019, former U.S. President Donald Trump designated the IRGC – an Iranian state entity – as such an organisation.
The sanctions will freeze the assets of Al Habsi as well as his blacklisted companies in the US, cut him off from the US financial system and ban Americans from doing business with him.
The Biden administration says it seeks a return to the 2015 multilateral nuclear agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The deal meant world powers would lift sanctions on Iran as the country scaled back its nuclear programme.
Trump left the accord in 2018 and began a maximum pressure campaign of sanctions against Tehran. In response, Iran started not complying with its commitments to the agreement.
Several rounds of talks in Vienna have failed to restore the JCPOA earlier in 2021 as disagreements remained over the sequencing of mutual compliance with the deal and which U.S. sanctions will be lifted.