A double whammy on Iran

By Eric Watkins

LOS ANGELES, Mar. 30 – If Tehran thought it was going to evade U.S. and E.U. sanctions by using its own Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL) or Yas Air cargo lines, it has been sadly disappointed.

Washington imposed more sanctions on IRISL this week due to its connections with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. It said IRISL has “played a key role” in Iran’s efforts to advance its missile programs and transport other military cargoes.

“The IRGC has continued to expand its control over the Iranian economy – in particular in the defense production, construction, and oil and gas industries,” it said – a reminder that Iran’s Oil Minister Rostam Qasemi is a Brigadier General in the IRGC.

The US Department of the Treasury also designated two IRISL front companies based in Malta: Modality Limited and Malship Shipping Agency Ltd. It said that the companies are owned by Mansour Eslami, an IRISL executive.

PRIOR DESIGNATION

It said that Eslami had already been designated in October 2010 for his role as director of an IRISL subsidiary, IRISL (Malta) Ltd., and for his co-management of several IRISL-affiliated holding companies.

Two IRISL employees were also designated this week including a senior IRISL legal advisor, Seyed Alaeddin Sadat Rasool, and Ali Ezati, IRISL’s Strategic Planning and Public Affairs Manager.

The announcement of new sanctions follows a media report last month that claimed IRISL has continued to operate around the globe under a variety of guises all aimed at bypassing sanctions.

“Despite the sanctions 130 of the 144 banned ships in IRISL’s fleet continue to call at many of the world’s major ports hidden behind a web of shell companies and diverse ownership,” the report said, naming Malta as a place where the Iranians can play those shell games.

“Despite being a member of the European Union, Malta not only supplies flagging services to IRISL ships, but is also home to 24 shell companies that help conceal Iran’s ownership of vessels,” the report said.

PAPER TRAIL

In the Grand Harbor of Malta, Transport Malta earns around 300,000 euros annually from registering IRISL ships, according to an estimate by Reuters based on a table of tariffs on the agency’s website.

Transport Malta also is home to the country’s public shipping register, the location of the paper trail of Iran’s shell games, as well as evidence of those who have worked for the country.

As sanctions have tightened, the Maltese register shows that Iran’s ships have regularly switched not just flags, but names, registered owners, registered agents, and the addresses of owners and agents.

The IRISL announcement came just a day after another one designating the Iranian cargo airline, Yas Air; Behineh Trading; three Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) officials; and one Nigerian shipping agent for acting for or on behalf of, or providing support to, the IRGC-QF.

“The airline, the trading company and the IRGC-QF officials were involved, respectively, in shipments of weapons to the Levant and Africa, further demonstrating Iran’s determination to evade international sanctions and export violence and instability throughout the Middle East and beyond,” the Treasury said.

COVERT ARMS TRADE

It said the Tehran-based Yas Air is an Iranian cargo airline that acts for or on behalf of the IRGC-QF to transport illicit cargo – including weapons – to Iran’s clients in the Levant. In particular, it said, Yas Air has moved IRGC-QF personnel and weapons “under the cover of humanitarian aid.”

According to the announcement, IRGC-QF officials oversaw and authorized actions taken by Yas Air that involved a series of flights carrying weapons destined for Syria and worked with Hizballah and Syrian officials to ensure passage of the illicit cargo.

It said that a Turkish inspection of one of the Yas Air flights bound for Syria – which listed “auto spare parts” on its cargo manifest – found weapons including Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifles, machine guns, nearly 8,000 rounds of ammunition, and an assortment of mortar shells.

Behineh Trading, the shipping company, and the Nigerian agent designated today were involved in a weapons shipment seized in Nigeria in late October 2010.

“This weapons shipment – orchestrated by the IRGC-QF and intended for The Gambia – is part of a larger pattern of Iranian lethal aid shipments to clients in Africa and around the world,” the announcement said.

Contact Eric Watkins at hippalus@yahoo.com

© Glamma Productions 2012

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About Eric Watkins

Eric Watkins is a consultant specializing in oil diplomacy. A former journalist, Mr. Watkins's work has appeared in numerous leading publications including The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, The Financial Times, and specialist media such as Oil & Gas Journal, Middle East Economic Survey (MEES), and Lloyd's List.
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