The United States blacklisted an affluent Iranian business executive and what it described as his multibillion-dollar money laundering network Thursday, accusing them of selling oil for Iran in violation of the Western economic sanctions imposed over Iran’s disputed nuclear program.
The Treasury Department, which administers the government’s Iran sanctions, said the executive Babak Morteza Zanjani had conspired with First Islamic Investment Bank of Malaysia and what the department called an international network of front companies stretching halfway around the world “for moving billions of dollars on behalf of the Iranian regime.”
The announcement, coming just a few days after diplomatic talks with Iran over the nuclear issue adjourned with no sign of progress, was the second high-profile Treasury action against accused violators of the Iranian sanctions in under a month.
On March 14, the Treasury blacklisted a Greek shipping tycoon, Dimitris Cambis, over what it called his scheme to acquire a fleet of oil tankers on Iran’s behalf and disguise their ownership to ship Iranian oil.
“As international sanctions have become increasingly stifling, Iran has resorted to criminal money-laundering techniques, moving its oil and money under false names and pretenses,” said David S. Cohen, the Treasury’s undersecretary who oversees the sanctions effort.
In a statement, Cohen said the action announced Thursday reflected what he called the government’s commitment to “exposing and thwarting Iran’s attempts to evade international sanctions and abuse the global financial system.”
The Treasury action also applied to a Swiss-based Iranian oil trading company, Naftiran Intertrade, which the Treasury said was owned by the National Iranian Oil Co., which has already been blacklisted.
The U.S. sanctions freeze the assets of blacklisted individuals and companies and prohibit U.S. dealings with them. Foreign companies that do business with any names on the blacklist run the risk of U.S. penalties as well.
A senior Treasury official, speaking on the condition that he not be identified by name, said it was a sign of Iran’s desperation that it had been forced into a money-laundering relationship with Zanjani that had been relatively easy to trace.
“These are Rube Goldberg-type networks, in efforts to try to get access to revenues, and not being able to do so in a way that escapes our attention,” the official said.
Zanjani, chairman of more than 60 companies known collectively as the Sorinet Group, based in the United Arab Emirates, did not immediately respond to email requests for comment.
But it is not the first time that he has been accused of violating Western sanctions on Iran, an accusation he has denied.
In December, the European Union identified him as a “key facilitator of Iranian oil deals” and forbade EU companies or individuals from doing Iran-related business with him. Zanjani said at the time that he had done nothing wrong.