Receive free US-Iran tensions updates
We’ll send you a myFT Daily Digest email rounding up the latest US-Iran tensions news every morning.
The owner of a vessel carrying Iranian oil that was seized by Washington has pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate US international commerce laws.
The owner, Suez Rajan Limited, in March signed an agreement with the Department of Justice pleading guilty to one count of conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, which gives the US president power to freeze and confiscate foreign assets, according to court filings that were unsealed last month.
The Marshall Islands company is the registered owner of the Suez Rajan, a 12-year-old tanker. It agreed to a three-year probation period and a $2.46mn fine. Empire Navigation, the Greece-based operator of the vessel, entered into a deferred prosecution agreement, according to court documents.
A lawyer representing the defendants did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Suez Rajan case is the latest maritime incident involving the US and Iran that further threatens to strain relations between the two countries as Washington and its European allies have resumed talks over how to handle Iran’s nuclear activity.
The Suez Rajan has been in US waters since May after the US redirected it under a court order with co-operation from at least one company involved with the vessel, the Financial Times previously reported. The ship had been heavily scrutinised following claims made by campaigners that it took on board a cargo of Iranian oil, intended for China.
Following that incident, Iran seized the Advantage Sweet, which was carrying Kuwaiti crude oil for US energy company Chevron.
The Suez Rajan took delivery of 1mn barrels of oil from another vessel, the Virgo, in February 2022 — a transaction that was spotted using satellite photographs and transponder analysis by United Against Nuclear Iran, a pressure group. The group established that the oil had been sourced from Iran’s Kharg Island.
Prosecutors said in a court filing that, as part of the scheme to move the Iranian oil, the crew of the Suez Rajan visited a third vessel. It took on a small amount of oil from that ship, but pretended to have loaded its entire cargo from it, in an alleged effort to obscure the commodity’s true origin.
Unusually for a vessel transporting Iranian oil, the Suez Rajan had a clear American link that enabled US courts and authorities to take action: the vessel was financed by Fleetscape, an affiliate of the Los Angeles-based Oaktree Capital. Fleetscape had provided lease financing to Empire Navigation.
After UANI raised the issue, the ship waited near Singapore, close to the area where it had taken on the oil. On April 7, more than a year later, it began a voyage up the Malacca Strait, west across the Indian Ocean and then crossed the Atlantic. It arrived off the coast of Houston on May 30, where it has remained.
According to Kpler, a data analytics platform, its million-barrel load was discharged between August 20 and September 5 and the oil was taken, via another vessel, to a terminal in Houston.
Transmissions to other vessels indicate that the Suez Rajan no longer has oil cargo.