WASHINGTON– The United States revealed on Thursday it had seized Iranian missiles shipped to Yemen and sold 1.1 million barrels of previously seized Iranian oil that was bound for Venezuela, in the Trump administration’s latest move to increase pressure on Tehran less than a week before Nov. 3 election.

The unsealing of the forfeiture complaints, by the Justice Department, came at the same time that the Treasury Department and State Department jointly slapped sanctions on a combined 11 different entities and individuals for their involvement in the purchase and sale of Iranian petrochemicals.

The latest actions against Iran come after US intelligence officials earlier this month alleged that Iranian hackers sought to threaten some US voters by sending them spoofed emails that were made to appear as though they were from the pro-Trump Proud Boys group.

Michael Sherwin, the acting US Attorney for the District of Columbia, said on Thursday that the unsealing of the Justice Department’s complaints was “divorced from politics.”

“These actions started last summer. And these are fluid, organic situations,” he said.

 Weapons and fuel 

The Justice Department’s forfeiture civil cases involve alleged schemes by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to secretly ship weapons to Yemen and fuel to Venezuela.

Assistant Attorney General for the National Security Division John Demers said on Thursday that the US government had sold and delivered 1.1 million barrels of Iranian fuel that had been destined for Venezuela, which it had seized earlier this year.

According to the complaint, the fuel originated with firms tied to the IRGC, and shippers took steps to mask ownership. The two vessels carrying the fuel, the Liberia-flagged Euroforce and Singapore-flagged Maersk Progress, had struggled to discharge and shifted course multiple times over the past several weeks.

The US government in August seized the 1.1 million barrels of fuel from four Iranian tankers that were en route to Venezuela. The fuel has since been sold, and officials say the proceeds will go to a special fund for victims of state-sponsored terrorism.

Iranian-flagged oil tanker Fortune docked at the El Palito refinery after its arrival to Puerto Cabello, in the northern state of Carabobo, Venezuela, last May. (AFP)
Iranian-flagged oil tanker Fortune docked at the El Palito refinery after its arrival to Puerto Cabello, in the northern state of Carabobo, Venezuela, last May. (AFP)

The money “will now go to a far better use than either regime, Iran or Venezuela, could have envisioned because it will provide relief for victims of terrorism rather than the perpetrators of such acts,” said Elliott Abrams, the State Department’s special representative for Iran and Venezuela.

“So that is both poetic and tangible justice,” he added.

The US estimates that it will be able to recoup some $40 million from the sale, and a “great portion” of that sum will be directed to the terrorism fund, said Michael Sherwin, acting US attorney for the District of Columbia

“Expanding toolbox” 

A separate forfeiture complaint from the Justice Department centers on Iranian guided missile parts that the US Navy seized over the last year from flagless vessels in the Arabian Sea. Officials say the cargo was intended for militant groups in Yemen. The US has consistently accused Iran of illegally smuggling arms to Houthi rebels battling the Yemeni government

In addition to the forfeiture complaints, the administration also announced sanctions against multiple entities tied to the petroleum industry in Iran.

Last week, US officials accused Iran of election interference through the distribution of threatening emails to Democratic voters in multiple states.

“With these seizure actions, we are expanding our toolbox to combat Iran’s bad behavior,” said Assistant Attorney General John Demers, the Justice Department’s top national security official.

The unsealing of the complaints was “divorced from politics,” Sherwin said, noting that the actions began months ago and took time to wind through the courts.

Source: The Arab Weekly