The US has imposed sanctions on what it says is a Russian-backed oil smuggling and money laundering network involving Chinese companies that bought Iranian oil.
The Department of the Treasury accused Beijing-based China Haokun Energy and a Hong Kong-based subsidiary of buying millions of barrels of Iranian oil from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
The US alleged that the network was led by figures in the Quds Force, a branch of the Revolutionary Guards that specialises in foreign espionage and paramilitary activities.
It was “backed by senior levels of the Russian government” and included the Chinese companies and a former Afghan diplomat, the US said.
The US named Quds Force official Behnam Shahriyari as the go-between for the China deals. “Shahriyari brokered the sales to facilitate the transfer of funds from China Haokun to the [Quds Force],” a Treasury statement said.
Beijing’s embassy in Washington condemned the sanctions without commenting on Chinese companies’ possible involvement.
Hundreds of Millions Raised
“The wilful imposition of unilateral sanctions, especially if it harms the interests of a third party, will neither enhance mutual trust between relevant parties nor contribute to their joint efforts to solve some international issues,” the embassy said.
Reuters was not immediately able to contact the designated companies.
The US said hundreds of millions of dollars had been raised for the Quds Force and helped Tehran support proxy militant groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria.
The Trump administration put the Revolutionary Guards on the State Department list of foreign terrorist organisations in 2019, the first time Washington formally labelled another nation’s military a terrorist group.
The Biden administration has been engaged in indirect talks to restart a 2015 deal former president Donald Trump abandoned, under which world powers lifted international financial sanctions on Tehran in return for curbs on its nuclear programme.
“While the United States continues to seek a mutual return to full implementation of the [Iran nuclear deal], we will strictly enforce sanctions on Iran’s illicit oil trade,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement, referring to the nuclear deal.
- Reuters, with additional editing by George Russell