U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a televised statement at the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S. (Photographer: Mike Theiler/Pool via Bloomberg)

U.S. Sanctions Russian Companies to Choke Off Oil for Syria

(Bloomberg) -- The Trump administration sanctioned an Iranian company and three Russian companies, including a subsidiary of the Russian Ministry of Energy, in an effort to choke off oil sales to the regime of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.

The companies help to illicitly ship oil from Iran to al-Assad’s government, the U.S. Treasury Department said in a statement announcing the sanctions Tuesday. The U.S. sanctioned a Russian and a Syrian involved in two of the Russian companies, identified as Promsyrioimport, the Energy Ministry subsidiary, and Global Vision Group, as well as two executives at the Central Bank of Iran that it said were involved in the scheme.

“Today we are acting against a complex scheme Iran and Russia have used to bolster the Assad regime and generate funds for Iranian malign activity,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. “Central Bank of Iran officials continue to exploit the international financial system, and in this case even used a company whose name suggests a trade in humanitarian goods as a tool to facilitate financial transfers supporting this oil scheme.”

An Iranian company called Tadbir Kish Medical and Pharmaceutical Company was used as a cutout for the country’s central bank to make payments to Russia-based Mir Business Bank, according to the Treasury Department statement. The money was then routed to Global Vision Group and then to Promsyrioimport, which paid for Iranian oil to be exported to Syria, Treasury alleges.

Treasury also issued an advisory warning shipping firms against participating in oil deliveries to al-Assad’s regime. Ships involved in the scheme routinely turn off their tracking devices to conceal their participation, senior administration officials said in a briefing for reporters.

Promsyrioimport said on its website that its focus is the “implementation of state energy policy.” The association helped with deliveries of Iranian oil, starting last year. Russia has defended its trade with Iran and Syria as complying with United Nations sanctions.

Mohammad Amer Alchwiki, who controls Global Vision Group, according to Treasury, is also involved in a separate scheme to transfer hundreds of millions of dollars to “Iranian proxies" in the Mideast, the U.S. said. He coordinated the transfers with a Hezbollah official who is already under U.S. sanction, Muhammad Qasir, Treasury said in its statement.

In addition to Alchwiki, Treasury sanctioned:

  • Andrey Dogaev, identified as first deputy director of Promsyrioimport;
  • Rasul Sajjad and Hossein Yaghoobi, identified as the international department director and vice governor for international affairs, respectively, at the Central Bank of Iran;
  • Muhammad Qasim al-Bazzal, identified as a Hezbollah member and associate of Qasir.

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