The two laundered money into the U.S. financial system to buy a tanker destined for Iran, prosecutors say By Mengqi Sun and Dylan Tokar Updated May 2, 2020 10:07 am ET The U.S. on Friday charged two Iranians with violating U.S. sanctions on Iran by orchestrating a scheme to buy a petroleum tanker later used to illicitly transport oil in coordination with the country’s state-owned oil company. Amir Dianat and Kamran Lajmiri used front companies to launder money into the U.S. for the purchase of the tanker, called the Nautic, in a plot involving several sanctioned Iranian entities, among them, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force and the National Iranian Oil Company, federal prosecutors said. The two men, who remain at large, were charged with violating U.S. money-laundering and sanctions laws. The U.S. Treasury on Friday separately blacklisted Mr. Dianat, a dual Iranian and Iraqi national, as well as the company the two used to buy the Nautic. Prosecutors also filed a civil forfeiture complaint in an attempt to reclaim $12.3 million used to purchase the tanker. Mr. Dianat, 55, is a longtime associate of senior officials of the IRGC-Qods Force, which the U.S. has designated a terrorist organization. He has helped the Iranian special operations force generate revenue and smuggle weapons, according to U.S. authorities. The organization has relied on Mr. Dianat to secure vessels to carry shipments and facilitate logistics, U.S. officials said. Messrs. Dianat and Lajmiri, 42, used a complex web of front companies to hide the purpose of the oil tanker purchase, prosecutors said. Taif Mining Services LLC, a company allegedly owned by Mr. Dianat, was created around the time of the September 2019 purchase as a vehicle to conduct the transaction, prosecutors said. The company was added to a U.S. sanctions list on Friday. The Nautic was sold to Taif Mining by Crystal Holdings Ltd., a subsidiary of Polembros Shipping, a family-owned Greek company that operates a fleet of tankers. Neither Crystal nor Polembros was named in U.S. court filings, but their identities were confirmed by a lawyer for Polembros on Friday. “Polembros and Crystal had no idea that this counterparty [Taif Mining] had engaged in the conduct alleged in this complaint, and they would have never done business with them if they had known,” the lawyer, Michael Fay, a partner at Berg & Androphy, said in a telephone interview. After taking possession of the Nautic, Taif Mining quickly changed the vessel’s name to the Gulf Sky and began making trips to Iran to load petroleum, prosecutors said. But Crystal Holdings never received the full payment for the ship, Mr. Fay noted. Almost $10 million sent by Taif was subsequently frozen by a correspondent account at a U.S. bank on money-laundering and sanctions concerns, prosecutors said. The U.S. bank was Wells Fargo Bank NA, whose compliance department blocked the transfer, according to a document reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Crystal Holdings later obtained a civil court order in the United Arab Emirates, and local authorities seized the tanker, according to court filings. Polembros has been cooperating with the U.S. authorities and hopes to reclaim the vessel, Mr. Fay said. “The only party that has been punished is us, and we’re the innocent party,” Mr. Fay said. “We’re all trying to make sure the party that gets punished is the one that violates the law.” Mr. Dianat couldn’t be reached for comment. A law firm in the Emirates representing Taif Mining didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, nor did Mr. Lajmiri. Wells Fargo declined to comment. If convicted, Mr. Dianat and Mr. Lajmiri would face a maximum of 20 years in prison. The sanctions announced by the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control on Friday block any assets Mr. Dianat and Taif Mining have within U.S. jurisdictions, prohibit U.S.-based companies and individuals from transacting with them, and expose anyone conducting business with them to potential penalties. —Ian Talley contributed to this article.