‘Ghost’ Tankers, Mysterious Lebanese Businessmen, and Two Front Companies Are Helping Iran Circumvent Oil Sanctions, Says Arab News Outlet
Iran is continuing its attempts to circumvent US sanctions, especially on its oil exports, using mysterious Lebanese front companies to smuggle its product onto the market.
According to the United Arab Emirates media outlet The National in a report on Wednesday, two Lebanese companies and possibly a third owned by a prominent Syrian businessman are secretly helping Iran to smuggle oil using their tankers.
The National stated that the site TankerTrackers.com had gathered information that the tankers Sandro and Jasmine were helping Iran to send oil to the Syrian coast, where the cargo is transferred to other vessels.
The vessels reportedly turn off their transponder devices during the illegal transactions, turning them into off-the-grid “ghost ships.”
In one case, the Iranian vessel Silvia I transferred 500,000 barrels of oil to the Sandro in Syrian waters. In another, the Iranian-flagged tanker Jasmine transferred 350,000 barrels to the Sandro.
Lebanese firm Sandro Overseas (Off Shore) SAL has owned the Sandro since May 30. The Jasmine is also Lebanese-owned, acquired by the company Africo 1 (Off-Shore) SAL on February 26.
Both companies are reportedly owned by the same people, who bought them in December 2018 and January 2019 after several years of dormancy.
The National named the owners as Marwan Ramadan, Bilal Atris, and Khalid Deeb, all residents of Beirut. There are also indications in the Arab press that Sandro Overseas has connections to top Syrian businessman Samer Foz, and was involved in processing oil from eastern Syria.
The previous holder of the eastern Syria contract was Synergy SAL (Offshore), which has been sanctioned by the US for shipping Iranian oil. The US Treasury Department said, “Synergy SAL (Offshore) has shipped tens of thousands of metric tons of Iranian oil into Syria in the past year by sea.”
In a bizarre twist, Sandro, Africo, and Synergy are all officially headquartered in the Al-Azarieh Building in Beirut, but inquiries showed that none of them are actually located at the site. A phone number listed for Synergy led to yet another company part-owned by Samer Foz.
In June, the Treasury Department sanctioned Foz personally, accusing him of “profiting heavily from reconstruction efforts in Syria, including through luxury developments on land seized by the Syrian regime from its own people.”
“Samer Foz, his relatives, and his business empire have leveraged the atrocities of the Syrian conflict into a profit-generating enterprise,” it said.
Oil sanctions have hit Iran particularly hard since they were reimposed last year. Iran was producing 3.8 million barrels per day before the sanctions, exporting 2.3 million barrels of it. Since the sanctions, the number has dropped to 1.1 million barrels per day.
The sanctions in general have had a major impact on Iran’s economy, with its GDP shrinking by 3.9 percent last year. The International Monetary Fund estimates that the economy in general will shrink by six percent this year.
As a result, Iran is turning to smuggling and other measures in order to circumvent the sanctions.