US Seizes 1M China-Bound Oil Barrels From Iran

In April, the U.S. government seized almost a million barrels of Iranian crude oil intended for China. The Justice Department confirmed this as the first criminal resolution involving the illicit sale and transport of Iranian oil, a violation of U.S. sanctions.

The Suez Rajan tanker played a pivotal role in this operation, allegedly transporting contraband cargo from the IRGC to China. Suez Rajan Ltd. — the vessel’s owner — pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) related to smuggling sanctioned Iranian crude oil.

They agreed to pay a $2.4 million fine and face three years of corporate probation. Empire Navigation, the Greek shipping company operating the Suez Rajan, collaborated by facilitating the transportation of Iranian oil to the United States at its own expense.

The confiscated cargo is now the subject of a civil forfeiture action, alleging violations of U.S. terrorism and money laundering statutes. The U.S. Treasury has emphasized that Iran’s oil smuggling revenue supports the “Quds Force”, an elite IRGC unit operating across the Middle East.

The complaint accuses multiple groups linked to Iran’s IRGC and the Quds Force of secretly selling and shipping Iranian oil to China. The prosecution used satellite images and documents to suggest that the Suez Rajan attempted to disguise its acquisition of Iranian crude oil.

Tactics included ship-to-ship transfers and falsifying vessel locations and identities through misleading reports and forged documents. The court documents also alleged that the vessel’s charterer used the U.S. financial system to facilitate the transportation of the oil.

Iran responded by seizing two tankers, further escalating tensions. The U.S. military thwarted additional Iranian attempts to seize commercial tankers in the Gulf of Oman and updated its warning to shippers traveling through the Middle East. Despite U.S. sanctions, Iran’s oil exports have remained robust, often exceeding 1 million barrels per day.

China is known to be a significant buyer of Iranian oil, and this recent seizure of 1 million barrels of oil bound for China demonstrates the need to enforce sanctions and disrupt illicit activities, and reminds us that we are still a world that needs oil to function and survive.