Court documents show U.S. seeks seizure of Iranian tanker violating
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[August 17, 2019]
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Newly
released U.S. court documents show the United States issued a warrant
for the seizure of an Iranian tanker that British Royal Marines had
seized last month in Gibraltar, citing evidence that it was transporting
oil to Syria in violation of U.S. sanctions.
The oil tanker Grace 1, the more than 2 million barrels of oil it
carries and $995,000 are subject to forfeiture based on a complaint by
the U.S. government, U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Jessie
Liu said in a news release on Friday.
The tanker was seized by British Royal Marines at the western mouth of
the Mediterranean on July 4 on suspicion of violating European Union
sanctions by taking oil to Syria, a close ally of Iran.
In a court document obtained by Reuters, it said there was evidence that
showed that the tanker was scheduled to arrive in Syria in early July.
"Charts and electronic equipment recovered from onboard the Grace 1,
WhatsApp messages recovered from crewmembers' mobile devices, and
crewmembers' statements revealed that the Grace 1 was destined for Port
Banias, Syria in violation of U.S. sanctions," the document said.
Iran has repeatedly denied that tanker's destination was Syria.
"As we said earlier ... Syria was not its destination and we have upheld
the same ... and reiterated that it was nobody's business even if it was
Syria," Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi was quoted as saying by
Tasnim news agency on Friday.
Gibraltar authorities said on Thursday the U.S. Department of Justice
had applied to seize the tanker.
Washington had attempted to detain the Grace 1 on the grounds that it
had links to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which it
has designated a terrorist organization.
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The name of Iranian oil tanker Grace 1 is seen removed as it sits
anchored after the Supreme Court of the British territory lifted its
detention order, in the Strait of Gibraltar, southern Spain, August
16, 2019. REUTERS/Jon Nazca
"The scheme involves multiple parties affiliated with the IRGC and
furthered by the deceptive voyages of the Grace 1," Liu said. "A
network of front companies allegedly laundered millions of dollars
in support of such shipments."
"A seizure warrant and a forfeiture complaint are merely
allegations. The burden to prove forfeitability in a civil
forfeiture proceeding is upon the government," the news release
Gibraltar, which said it first received a U.S. Department of Justice
request to seize the Grace 1 tanker on Thursday, lifted the tanker's
detention order later in the same day.,
But the vessel's fate was further complicated by a last-ditch U.S.
legal appeal to hold it.
The tanker shifted its position on Friday, but its anchor was still
down off Gibraltar and it was unclear if it was ready to set sail
The warrant for the seizure of the tanker, which carries 2.1 million
barrels of oil, was issued by the U.S. District Court for the
District of Columbia and addressed to "the United States Marshal's
Service and/or any other duly authorized law enforcement officer."
(Reporting by Mohammad Zargham in WASHINGTON and Roslan Khasawneh in
SINGAPORE, Editing by Leslie Adler & Simon Cameron-Moore)
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