The US has charged five of its citizens with conspiring to sell sanctioned Iranian oil to China.
A statement from the US Department of Justice (DoJ) named five men, four from Texas one from New York, with one charge each of conspiracy and one of violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA). They are said to have acted between July 2019 and February this year to sell sanctioned crude.
There were plans to sell two shipments per month of the oil, providing a predicted profit of around $28 million per month.
They went to some lengths to evade detection. The defendants were said to have planned to use a Polish shell company as a straw seller of the crude. Two of the men were also alleged to have planned to secure foreign passports in order to set up offshore accounts, to avoid US scrutiny.
Convictions may lead to a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison and a fine of $1.25mn.
The defendants had “conspired for over eight months to devise a scheme to violate US sanctions imposed on Iran, particularly the ban on foreign oil sales”, said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers.
“The sale of oil is the lifeblood of the Iranian economy. At the same time the United States was increasing its sanctions in order to pressure Iran to stop its malign activities, these defendants put greed ahead of country,” he said.
Two of the men named, Robert Thwaites and Daniel Lane, work at Stack Royalties. The DoJ said Lane had offered to launder money through the company. Previously, Stack Royalties seems to have been mostly notable for an offer, in early 2018, suggesting cryptocurrency investors might like to convert their digital currency assets into mineral rights in an Oklahoma play.
Nicholas Hovan was reported to have claimed a connection to the son of China’s minister of energy. Zhenyu Wang also worked on the Chinese side of the deal, saying the group would have to pay $4 per barrel to “a politician, the banks, the inspection and the person signing the contract”. Pushed further, “it is a bribe”, he agreed, “I don’t want to sugar coat it … it is a bribe”.