A Greek shipping industry magnate used a host of front companies and a fleet of crude-oil tankers flying Panamanian and Liberian flags to help Iran evade international oil sanctions, U.S. officials said Thursday.
Parallel statements by the State and Treasury departments accused Greek businessman Dimitris Cambis of channeling Iranian government funds through the front companies, including one called Jupiter Seaways, to purchase eight oil tankers used to sneak Iranian crude into the global market.
The Treasury Department, which imposed a set of sanctions focusing exclusively on Mr. Cambis’ activities on Thursday, outlined an elaborate plot in which he used “ship-to-ship transfers” to disguise “the Iranian origin of oil transported” on the tankers.
“We are lifting the veil on an intricate Iranian scheme that was designed to evade international oil sanctions,” David S. Cohen, Treasury under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in announcing the sanctions, which authorize U.S. penalties against “U.S. persons” doing business with Mr. Cambis or his companies.
“We will continue to expose deceptive Iranian practices and to sanction those individuals and entities who participate in these schemes,” Mr. Cohen said.
The development marks the latest in what for more than a year has been an attempt by the Obama administration to lead — and subsequently enforce — a global embargo on Iranian crude oil.
The effort, which began in 2011 amid mounting international tension surrounding Iran’s nuclear program, has seen the Treasury and State departments level sanctions at companies from Hong Kong to Switzerland in an attempt to block the companies’ access to anyone doing business in U.S. financial markets.
While administration officials claim the effort has tremendously cut into Tehran’s ability to draw revenue from the Iranian oil industry, implementation of the sanctions has involved a delicate geopolitical dance between the White House and certain U.S. allies around the world, several of whom depend on Iranian oil to feed their own energy needs.
As a result, U.S. authorities have granted exemptions to the sanctions to nations seen to be making a concerted effort to ween themselves off the Iranian crude. The State Department, for instance, announced on Wednesday that it was renewing previous exemptions granted to Japan and some European Union nations.
The Treasury Department, meanwhile, said Thursday’s sanctions were being imposed on 14 “front companies” used by Mr. Cambis to “purchase oil tankers while disguising the fact that the tankers were being purchased on behalf of the National Iranian Tanker Company.”
“These front companies were used to obscure the fact that these vessels, which are capable of carrying roughly $200 million worth of oil per shipment, are the property of the Iranian government,” the department said in its statement.
The statement said one front company, Libra Shipping, conducted a series of “ship-to-ship transfers” of oil from the National Iranian Oil Co. in “an attempt to mask the fact that the true origin of the oil is from Iran, and to introduce it into the global market as if it were non-Iranian oil.”