US tries to seize Iranian gas heading toward Venezuela

Above, the Iranian-flagged oil tanker Fortune is docked at the El Palito refinery after its arrival at Puerto Cabello in the northern state of Carabobo, Venezuela. (AFP)
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Updated 03 July 2020

US tries to seize Iranian gas heading toward Venezuela

  • Complaint alleges that the sale was arranged by a businessman with ties to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps

MIAMI: US federal prosecutors are seeking to seize four tankers sailing toward Venezuela with gasoline supplied by Iran, the latest attempt to disrupt ever-closer trade ties between the two heavily sanctioned anti-American allies.
The civil-forfeiture complaint filed late Wednesday in the District of Columbia federal court alleges that the sale was arranged by a businessman, Mahmoud Madanipour, with ties to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, a US-designated foreign terrorist organization.
“The profits from these activities support the IRGC’s full range of nefarious activities, including the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery, support for terrorism, and a variety of human rights abuses, at home and abroad,” prosecutor Zia Faruqui alleges in the complaint.
Alireza Miryousefi, a spokesman for the Iranian mission to the United Nations, said any attempt by the US to prevent Iran’s lawful trading with any country of its choosing would be an act of “piracy, pure and simple.”
“This is a direct threat to international peace and security and in contravention of international law including the UN Charter,” he said in a statement.
The Trump administration has been stepping up pressure on ship owners to abide by sanctions against US adversaries like Iran, Venezuela and North Korea. In May, it issued an advisory urging the global maritime industry to be on the lookout for tactics to evade sanctions like dangerous ship-to-ship transfers and the turning off of mandatory tracking devices — both techniques used in recent oil deliveries to and from both Iran and Venezuela.
The campaign appears to be working.
On Thursday, the US Treasury Department lifted sanctions on eight vessels that were recently found to have transported Venezuelan crude. The move followed an attempted auction Wednesday by federal marshals in Houston of 100,000 barrels of gasoline seized from a Greek-managed ship whose owner suspected the cargo was heading toward Venezuela. None of the five parties at the auction agreed to the minimum $2.5 million bid.
As commercial traders increasingly shun Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro’s socialist government has been increasingly turning to Iran.
In May, Maduro celebrated the arrival of five Iranian tankers delivering badly needed fuel supplies to alleviate shortages that have led to days-long gas lines even in the capital, Caracas, which is normally spared such hardships. Despite sitting atop the world’s largest crude reserves, Venezuela doesn’t produce enough domestically-refined gasoline and has seen its overall crude production plunge to the lowest in over seven decades amid the ongoing crisis and fallout from US sanctions.
We are “two rebel nations, two revolutionary nations that will never kneel down before US imperialism,” Maduro said at the time. “Venezuela has friends in this world, and brave friends at that.”
The flotilla’s arrival angered the Trump administration, which struck back by sanctioning the five Iranian captains of the vessels.
The four tankers named in the complaint filed Wednesday — the Bella, Bering, Pandi and Luna — are currently transporting to Venezuela 1.1 million barrels of gasoline obtained via risky ship-to-ship transfers, prosecutors allege. Of the four, the Bella is currently sailing near the Philippines, ship tracking data shows, while the Pandi appears to have turned off its satellite tracking system on June 29 after having spent two weeks between Iran and the UAE. The other two were last spotted in May — the Bering near Greece and the Luna sailing between Oman and Iran.
According to the asset forfeiture complaint, an unnamed company in February invoiced Avantgarde for a $14.9 million cash payment for the sale of the gasoline aboard the Pandi. Nonetheless, a text message between Mandanipour and an unnamed co-conspirator suggest the voyage had encountered difficulties.
“The ship owner doesn’t want to go because of the American threat, but we want him to go, and we even agreed We will also buy the ship,” according to the message, an excerpt of which was included in the complaint.


Algeria reopens mosques, beaches after 5-month lockdown

Updated 15 August 2020

Algeria reopens mosques, beaches after 5-month lockdown

  • Restaurants were also allowed to reopen, and mosques that can hold more than 1,000 people and ensure social distancing measures
  • Crowds packed beaches Saturday in the capital Algiers, celebrating the opportunity to swim in the Mediterranean Sea

ALGIERS: Algeria started reopening its mosques, cafes, beaches and parks Saturday for the first time in five months, gradually relaxing one of the world’s longer virus confinement periods.
Curfews remain in place in more than half the country, and masks are required outdoors as Algeria tries to keep virus infections down. But authorities decided to start reopening public places starting Saturday, saying the virus infection rate is believed to have stabilized.
Crowds packed beaches Saturday in the capital Algiers, celebrating the opportunity to swim in the Mediterranean Sea amid the August heat.
Restaurants were also allowed to reopen, and mosques that can hold more than 1,000 people and ensure social distancing measures.
However, mosques remain closed to all women, children and the elderly until further notice, and the main weekly Muslim prayers on Friday will remain banned to limit crowds. Mosque-goers must wear masks and bring their own prayer mats.
“This reopening will depend entirely on the discipline of each person to respect protection measures,” said the minister for religious affairs, Mohamed Belmahdi, who was among those attending the first services Saturday at Khaled Ibn El Walid Mosque in the resort town of Heuraoua east of Algiers.
He warned that authorities would close mosques again if Algerians show even a “slight indifference” toward preventive measures. “The health of citizens comes before faith.”
Algeria has reported more than 37,000 virus infections and 1,350 deaths as of Friday, the third-highest death rate reported in Africa after South Africa and Egypt.