The US Treasury has imposed sanctions on an Indian petrochemical firm and other companies in the United Arab Emirates and Hong Kong for secret deals that enabled the shipping of Iranian oil and petrochemical products.
Tibalaji, a company based in Mumbai, was accused of working with sanctioned entities such as Triliance, a petrochemical brokerage based in Hong Kong, plus Iran Chemical Industries Investment Company and Middle East Kimiya Pars, for oil orders that the US department said were “ultimately shipped to India”.
Tibalaji was part of an international network of companies that bought and concealed the origin of shipments worth “hundreds of millions of dollars” sent to destinations in South and East Asia, such as China, the Treasury Department said late last week.
It is the first Indian firm to face such punishment under sanctions passed in 2018-19, imposed after the Trump administration ditched the nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran.
Iranian brokers and front companies in the UAE, Hong Kong, and India facilitated financial transfers and shipping of Iranian petroleum and petrochemical products, the department said.
“These entities have played a critical role in concealing the origin of the Iranian shipments and enabling two sanctioned Iranian brokers, Triliance Petrochemical Co Ltd (Triliance) and Persian Gulf Petrochemical Industry Commercial Co (PGPICC), to transfer funds and ship Iranian petroleum and petrochemicals to buyers in Asia.”
Indian media noted that the US decision came a day after External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar finished a visit to the United States, where he met several senior officials including his counterpart US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
The Hindu quoted an Iranian diplomat as saying the US move was “hostile” and the sanctions “illegal”, adding: “Iran has never taken permission from the US and accordingly it will adopt any necessary measure to ensure its legal rights and national interests.”
Sanctions Linked to Nuclear Dispute
The sanctions imposed against Tibalaji come at a time when US officials are also concerned about Indian refiners importing cheap oil from Russia, and exporting it to the US and elsewhere.
The sanctions linked to Iran stem from the 2015 nuclear agreement that limited Iran’s uranium enrichment activity to make it harder for Tehran to develop nuclear arms, in return for lifting international sanctions.
But in 2018 former US president Donald Trump ditched the agreement, claiming it did not do enough to curb Iran’s nuclear activities, or its ballistic missile programme and regional activities. He reimposed sanctions that crippled Iran’s economy.
Trump vowed to negotiate a better deal but was unable to fulfill that pledge and analysts have said since that Iran has moved closer to developing a nuclear weapon.
The Biden Administration has sought to reimpose the JCPOA but the chance of doing that was made more difficult by the US drone attack in January 2020 that killed Iranian general Quassem Soleimani and the appointment of conservative Ebrahim Raisi as Iran’s new president in August 2021.
Last week, the US State Department designated eight companies, including two based in China – Zhonggu Storage and Transportation Co Ltd and WS Shipping Co Ltd – as “Iran petroleum and petrochemical sanctions evaders”.
It imposed sanctions on the Chinese firms, saying: “Zhonggu Storage and Transportation Co Ltd, which operates a commercial crude oil storage facility for Iranian petroleum that provides a vital conduit for the Iranian petroleum trade, as well as WS Shipping Co Ltd, the ship manager for a vessel that has transported Iranian petroleum products.
“As Iran continues to accelerate its nuclear program in violation of the JCPOA, we will continue to accelerate our enforcement of sanctions on Iran’s petroleum and petrochemical sales under authorities that would be removed under the JCPOA,” it said.
“These enforcement actions will continue on a regular basis, with an aim to severely restrict Iran’s oil and petrochemical exports. Anyone involved in facilitating these illegal sales and transactions should cease and desist immediately if they wish to avoid US sanctions.”
The Treasury department noted, however, that the sanctions against Tibalaji and other companies could be reversed if Iran returns to compliance under the JCPOA agreement.
Prospects of the nuclear deal being revived have swung dramatically this year but a “narrow pathway” still exists, the International Crisis Group said last month.
Iran and International Atomic Energy Agency officials held talks in Vienna last week to discuss whether Iran would allow inspectors back to Iran for oversight of its reactors. Both sides notified the European Union of their positions for “final draft” on rejoining the JCPOA.
- By Jim Pollard