The US has revealed that Russia has been providing the Syrian regime with millions of barrels of oil, with Assad’s regime, in turn, transferring millions of dollars to the IRGC’s Qods Force, which then distributes this money to Iran’s regional proxies and militias, headed by Hezbollah, the Iraqi Hashd al-Shaabi and Hamas. These transactions have been taking place since the outbreak of the revolution. The latest developments and sanctions reveal the US wants to send a message that it will not tolerate any party that may be complicit with Iran in financing terror across the world.
The latest announcement by Washington of its exposure of the Russo-Iranian network tasked with smuggling funds to Syria uncovers a new link in the chain of pressures being exerted by the US administration on both Iran’s regime and Hezbollah, especially concerning the Syrian arena.
Analysts say that these issues are coming to the fore not only within the framework of US efforts to target and sanction Iran after the US withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal, but are also a new tool of pressure used by the US administration, according to the US envoy to Syria James Jeffery, who said that Washington has a strategy to get Iran out of Syria permanently.
The US Treasury Department information also revealed that Iran was funnelling hundreds of millions of dollars through Russia and Syria to what it defines as “terrorists in the Middle East” via a program run by the director of a company registered in Britain. This program allowed Tehran to exploit the international financial system to send money to its affiliated militias.
The United States has imposed sanctions on nine individuals and entities accused of organising and transferring funds to Hezbollah and Hamas through oil deals with the Syrian government and companies acting as a front for this activity, including companies affiliated with the Russian Ministry of Energy.
The Iranian Foreign Ministry called the recent sanctions imposed by the US Treasury Department “futile.” Observers pointed out that it is the first time that the Russian role has been highlighted in financing these organisations.
The US Treasury Department revealed that in 2014 the Central Bank of Iran[CBI] began sending money to Iran-based “Tadbir Kish Medical and Pharmaceutical Company.” The Iranian company was transferring the money to an account with Russia’s Mir Business Bank owned by a Syrian businessman named Mohammad Amer Alchwiki (Alchwiki), who claims to be a central figure in the operation.
The report added that while these transactions originally went via Russia, they were transferred to the Bank Melli Iran, after Tehran and Moscow facilitated the exchange of currencies between them in 2015.
The latest US sanctions imposed on November 5 included the bank, which Washington accused of transferring funds to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
How was it done?
Washington declared that the US Treasury Department’s Foreign Assets Control Office has listed nine targets in an international network through which the Iranian regime, in cooperation with Russian companies, is transferring millions of barrels of oil to the Syrian government. The Assad regime, in turn, is facilitating the transfer of hundreds of millions of dollars to the Revolutionary Guards’ Qods Force, with a large portion of these funds being transferred to Hamas and Hezbollah.
US sanctions prohibit financial support for the Syrian government, including shipments of oil to ports controlled by the Syrian government, and also prohibit financial support for certain terrorist organisations.
“We are dealing with a complex plan used by Iran and Russia to support Assad’s regime and generate funds for malignant Iranian activity,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said. “Iranian central bank officials continue to exploit the international financial system.
“Today, we are publishing an advisory report that identifies the serious risks to the maritime sector if it participates in shipping oil to the Syrian government. The United States is committed to imposing a fine on Iran and Russia because of their efforts to consolidate Assad’s totalitarian rule and to disrupt the Iranian regime’s funding of terrorist organisations,” he said.
The sanctions targeted the main actors in this network, including the Syrian national Mohammed Amer Alchwiki and his Russian company “Global Vision Group.”
Alchwiki and his Russia-based company, Global Vision Group, are key players in the transfer of oil from Iran to Syria and the transfer of funds to the IRGC’s Qods Force. The sanctions also highlight the critical role played by officials of the Central Bank of Iran in facilitating this scheme.
It adds that in April 2017, Alchwiki wrote to Rasul Sajid, director of the International Department of the Central Bank of Iran, to confirm that he had received $ 63 million; he is believed to have received hundreds of millions of dollars in total throughout the operation.
The report shows that the funds are being sent from Mir Business Bank to Promsyrioimport, owned by the Russian Ministry of Energy. The company and its managing director Andrey Dujayev are working with Global Vision Group which oversees the transfer of funds for Iranian crude shipments to Syria.
A Treasury Department statement said Iran was continuing to fund terrorism, providing hundreds of millions of dollars to its regional proxies and terrorist organisations, Hamas and Lebanese Hezbollah.
“The Iranian regime continues to give priority to spending money on terror, rather than supporting its people,” said Sigal Mandelker, US Undersecretary of State for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence. He stressed that “Washington will seek to impose sanctions against anyone involved in the shipment of oil to Syria, or seeks to avoid sanctions on Iranian oil.”
All assets of these individuals and entities under US jurisdiction are added to the list of proscribed entities whose accounts, along with any other entities whose dealings are prohibited by law, will be frozen as a result of their ownership by a penalised party, with no American individuals allowed to conduct transactions or trade with them.
According to a report by the US Treasury, the Global Vision Group is coordinating with a group of entities designed to camouflage its activities, along with the Iranian National Oil Company to transfer funds for the shipment of oil to Syria.
The Global Vision Group coordinates through working with Russia-based company PromSerioMipport, a subsidiary of the Russian Ministry of Energy, to facilitate the shipment of Iranian oil from Iran’s oil company to Syria.
Since 2014, Iranian oil tankers have suspended their automatic identification system before delivering oil to Syria, as a way to hide the true destination and recipients of the Iranian oil, the Times report noted.
The report reveals that in order to help Syria pay Russia for oil, Iran sends money to Russia through the Alchwiki and the Global Vision Group.
The report explained that to hide the involvement of Alchwiki, the Central Bank of Iran to pay these amounts to the Russian Mir Business Bank using the ” Tadbir Kish Medical and Pharmaceutical Company.”
Although the name of Tadbir Kish indicates that it is working in the field of humanitarian goods, it has been used repeatedly to facilitate illegal transfers to support this scheme, after the Central Bank of Iran transferred funds on orders from the Tadbir Kish company to the Global Vision Group in Russia which transfers it to the company Promsyrioimport to pay for the oil.
Mir Business Bank is entirely owned by Bank Melli Iran, which has been chosen as a channel for IRGC payments.
The Treasury Department’s report states that senior officials of the Central Bank of Iran play a crucial role in this arrangement. Rasul Sajjad, Director of the International Department of the Central Bank of Iran, and Hossein Yaghoobi, CBI’s Vice Governor for International Affairs, helped facilitate Alchwiki transfers. Andrey Dogaev, First Deputy Director of Promsyrioimport, worked closely with Yaghoobi to coordinate the sale of Iranian oil to the Syrian government.
Through this scheme, PromSerioMipport, which works with the Global Vision Group company, has exported millions of barrels of Iranian oil to Syria. The scheme also redirected millions of dollars between the Central Bank of Iran and the account of Mir Bank in Russia.
Observers believe that what the Treasury and sanctions have revealed about the network in this regard sends a message to Iran, Russia and the Syrian regime that the US administration is serious in its attempts to block the networks of funding to and from Iran, as well as in its determination to put pressure on all three to transform the situation in Syria and Iran.
Rahim Hamid is an Ahwazi freelance journalist and human rights advocate who writes about the plight of his community – the Ahwazis – and other ethnic groups in Iran.
He has published articles in many well-known media outlets such as the Huffington Post, telegraph.co.uk, The Daily Caller, INTERNATIONAL POLICY DIGEST, and VocalEurope.eu