By Jamie Crawford
The U.S. Treasury Department on Thursday detailed what it called an "intricate Iranian scheme" helped by a Greek shipping magnate in an effort to avoid oil export sanctions.
Dimitris Cambis established a network of front companies to purchase multiple oil tankers in an elaborate scheme to disguise the origin of Iranian oil, the Treasury Department said.
"Today we are lifting the veil on an intricate Iranian scheme that was designed to evade international oil sanctions," David S. Cohen, Treasury under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a written statement. "We will continue to expose deceptive Iranian practices, and to sanction those individuals and entities who participate in these schemes."
In addition, the U.S. State Department imposed a visa ban on Cambis, as well as the corporate officers of two insurance companies that provide services to the National Iranian Tanker Company, or NITC.
The United States and the European Union are leading dual sanctions drives that target the purchase of Iranian crude in order to pressure the Iranian government to negotiate with the international community over its disputed nuclear program.
Under the guise of acting on his own company's behalf, Cambis purchased eight oil tankers while disguising their purchase for the NITC, Treasury officials said. Separate front companies were used to conduct a series of ship-to-ship transfers of Iranian petroleum with the goal of obscuring the oil's origin before it moved into international markets.
The tankers had the capacity to carry as much as $200 million worth of oil per shipment, the Treasury Department said.
Cambis has taken his case to the international media in recent weeks to deny any involvement in surreptitious Iranian oil transactions.
"There is no Iranian vessel that has done any [ship-to-ship transfer] with us," Cambis told Reuters last month in Athens. "We have nothing to do with NITC."
In a conference call with reporters to explain the actions taken, a senior administration official said the information used to make the designation of Cambis was comprehensive.
"This is not a case at the margin," the official said. "The information was solid and overwhelming, so we are confident in this designation."
The official also noted there was no evidence to suggest that any possible recipient of the oil was involved in trying to contravene sanctions in place on Iranian oil.
Under the sanctions, U.S. citizens are prohibited from engaging in any transactions with Cambis, or the other entities sanctioned, while blocking any assets held by those entities under U.S. jurisdiction.