US seized nearly 1 million barrels of Iranian oil being smuggled to China
U.S. authorities seized nearly one million barrels of Iranian oil that officials say were being illegally smuggled to China earlier this year, according to newly released court records.
The U.S. seizure of the M/T Suez Rajan occurred earlier this year, leading to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s own efforts to seize two oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz. Court filings show allegations from U.S. prosecutors that Iran falsified the vessel’s cargo records and prevented its location from being accurately tracked.
Since the original seizure this spring, the Rajan has sat off the coast of Texas. Iran had threatened to hold Washington responsible if the cargo is offloaded, and no U.S. company agreed to offload the barrels for fear of reprisals from Tehran.
Ultimately, the Greek company that managed the Rajan, Empire Navigation, sent another vessel to complete the offloading process.
The U.S. Justice Department chose to remain silent about the operation until all of the oil was offloaded from the vessel.
“Given the nature of the cargo, the sensitivity of this action, and the time it was expected to take to transport the cargo to the United States, revelation of this action was likely to cause security risks to the defendants, the government, as well as the vessel and its crew members,” the DOJ wrote in a filing.
Empire Navigation has now pleaded guilty to smuggling sanctioned Iranian crude oil, and is being fined $2.4 million. The company also faces three years of probation.
The Strait of Hormuz has remained a highly contentious region between the U.S. Navy and Iranian forces. Iran claimed to have carried out an “intercept” against a U.S. Navy vessel in late August, but the U.S. said no such incident occurred.
Iran published heavily-edited footage that it said showed fast attack vessels “intercepting” the USS Bataan and USS Thomas Hudner on August 17.
“That report is not true. So I don’t know where that’s coming from, but we’ve seen this from them before pushing out, I don’t know if it’s propaganda, but I would say untrue statements, and that just is not accurate,” Pentagon Deputy Press Secretary Sabrina Singh told Fox News Digital in a statement at the time.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.