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Press Release

United States Unseals Civil Forfeiture Complaint for Seizure of Iranian Oil

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Columbia
Action Advances Enforcement Efforts to Deprive Funds to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a Terrorist Organization

            WASHINGTON – A civil forfeiture complaint was unsealed today in the District of Columbia, alleging that more than 500,000 barrels of Iranian fuel oil valued at over $25 million previously onboard the Oil Tanker “Abyss” is forfeitable under the terrorism financing statutes as property of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO).

            The document alleges a scheme to facilitate the shipment and sale of Iranian fuel oil for the benefit of the IRGC and its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF). The IRGC and its facilitators used deceptive practices to masquerade the oil as Iraqi, including manipulating the vessel’s automatic identification system reporting and presenting falsified documents.

            “The complaint unsealed today is the latest in a series of actions our Office has taken to seize and to forfeit oil that Iran has attempted to illegally sell,” said U.S. Attorney Matthew M. Graves.  “Forfeiture actions like this one disrupt Iran’s efforts to illegally sell oil.  The proceeds from these illegal sales are the lifeblood of the Iranian’s efforts to sew war and terror around the globe, disrupting these sales is critical to our national security.”

            “Today’s civil forfeiture action exemplifies our unwavering dedication to advancing our shared goal of protecting the homeland from terrorist organizations attempting to circumvent U.S. sanctions,” said Erin Keegan, Acting Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations, New York. “HSI remains steadfast in its commitment to utilizing its full authority to disrupt the efforts of hostile countries seeking to profit from illicit oil sales used to support terrorism and the proliferation and delivery of weapons of mass destruction. Today’s action underscores our message that HSI and our partners will not stand by idly as Iran and the terrorist groups it supports use unlawful means to threaten our national security.”

            "Today’s civil forfeiture demonstrates our commitment to protecting the U.S. from organizations seeking to evade U.S. sanctions," said Special Agent in Charge Alvin M. Winston, Sr. of FBI Minneapolis. “The FBI remains dedicated to working with our partners to protect the sanctity of our financial infrastructure and disrupt the attempts of hostile regimes to generate profits from oil sales used to support terrorism."

            The civil forfeiture action further alleges that the fuel oil constitutes the property of the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC), which has provided material support to the IRGC and IRGC-QF.  As alleged, profits from petroleum product sales support the IRGC’s full range of malign activities, including the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery, support for terrorism, and both domestic and international human rights abuses.

            This enforcement action is the most recent in a series of efforts made by the Justice Department to combat the illicit trafficking of Iranian oil in violation of U.S. law. On September 8, 2023, the Department announced a seizure of oil onboard the tanker Suez Rajan, a criminal plea by its ownership company, and a deferred prosecution agreement by its operating company, all arising out of the tanker’s transport of illicit Iranian oil. The oil was sold for $74 million and the proceeds of the sale are now subject to the civil forfeiture process. 

            These recent actions build on prior enforcement cases the Department of Justice has brought in the District of Columbia related to seizures of illicit Iranian oil since 2019. For example, on July 1, 2020, the Department filed a civil asset forfeiture complaint against all the petroleum seized onboard the four oil tankers, the Bella, Bering, Pandi, and Luna, which were carrying Iranian petroleum to Venezuela. The petroleum onboard these four tankers was sold for approximately $45 million.

            Similarly, on February 2, 2021, the Department of Justice filed a civil asset forfeiture against all petroleum seized onboard the oil tanker Achilleas, which was transporting NIOC petroleum. The petroleum on the Achilleas was sold for approximately $111 million. 

            During October and November 2021, the Department of Justice filed a civil asset forfeiture complaint against all the petroleum seized onboard the tankers Arina and Nostos, which was of Iranian origin. The petroleum onboard was sold for approximately $51 million.

          All the above matters were handled by the Threat Finance Unit in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section. These oil seizure actions are in addition to multiple seizures and criminal forfeiture actions for funds associated with the transfer of illicit Iranian oil and the laundering of U.S. dollar payments. All told, these actions have deprived Iran of more than 5,300,000 barrels of petroleum products and $294 million attributable to IRGC.  

          Funds successfully forfeited with a connection to a state sponsor of terrorism may in whole or in part be directed to the U.S. Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund.

          The FBI Minneapolis Field Office and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) New York are investigating the Abyss case related to Iranian fuel oil, and other cases were investigated by these offices as well as the HSI Washington, D.C. and Colorado Springs offices.

          Assistant U.S. Attorneys Karen P. Seifert, Maeghan O. Mikorski, Brian Hudak, Rajbir S. Datta, and Erika Oblea for the District of Columbia are litigating the case related to Iranian fuel oil aboard the Abyss, with support from the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section. They received assistance from Paralegal Specialist Brian Rickers. The U.S. Marshals Service provided significant assistance in this matter.

            A civil forfeiture complaint is merely an allegation. The burden to prove forfeitability in a civil forfeiture proceeding is upon the government.

Updated February 2, 2024

National Security
Press Release Number: 24-93