US authorities charged two Iranian citizens and seized $12 million used to purchase a now-detained Liberian flagged oil tanker that could have been used to support the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
The two men were allegedly part of an international scheme that were channelling money through the US in a conspiracy that supported the IRGC to acquire the Nautic, a 900-footlong tanker that was previously named the Gulf Sky, and is now detained in the Gulf of Oman.
The tanker struggle is also echoed by a standoff in 2019, when UK authorities seized the Grace 1, an Iranian oil tanker in Gibraltar, alleging it was carrying oil to Syria in violation of a European Union (EU) embargo. Gibraltar ultimately released the oil tanker in August.
The US actions targeting the Quds Force raised the prospect of IRGC reprisals against US strategic interests since tensions spiked in January, when a US drone strike killed the IRGC’s chief military strategist, Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani. Afterward, Iran launched retaliatory strikes against American bases in Iraq.
The US government designated IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization last year.
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement, “The Iranian regime and its supporters continue to prioritize the funding of international terrorist organizations over the health and well-being of the Iranian people,” who are grappling with a collapse in oil prices and western sanctions.