One day after an Iranian oil tanker detained in Gibraltar was ordered to be released, the U.S. Justice Department has issued a warrant to seize the tanker, in a move certain to widen the weeks-long diplomatic standoff between Tehran and Washington.
The tanker, identified as "Grace 1" in the documents, was seized last month by the British Royal Navy operation off the coast of Gibraltar. The ship was suspected of violating European Union sanctions on any oil shipments bound for Syria.
The complaint, which was unsealed on Friday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia alleges that "Oil Tanker “Grace 1,” all petroleum aboard it and $995,000.00 are subject to forfeiture based on violations of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), bank fraud statute, and money laundering statute, as well as separately the terrorism forfeiture statute."
The tanker was reportedly carrying up to 2.1 million barrels of Iranian crude oil. It's unclear whether the vessel had already departed Gibraltar at the time when the warrant was issued.
"The documents allege a scheme to unlawfully access the U.S. financial system to support illicit shipments to Syria from Iran by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a designated foreign terrorist organization. The scheme involves multiple parties affiliated with the IRGC and furthered by the deceptive voyages of the Grace 1. A network of front companies allegedly laundered millions of dollars in support of such shipments," the statement alleges.
A court ordered the tanker's release on Thursday after Gibraltar's Chief Minister Fabian Picardo, said he'd received "written assurances" that the tanker would not travel to any country currently under EU sanctions. Additional legal actions against the ship's captain and crew were also dropped.
"This assurance has the effect of ensuring that we have deprived the (President Bashar) Assad regime in Syria of more than one hundred and forty million dollars of valuable crude oil," said Picardo.
Tehran has called the impounding of the oil tanker an "illegal interception."
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