Report: Venezuela Using Iran-Linked Smuggling Ships to Defy U.S. Sanctions

Foreign tourists in veils seen on a passenger boat with the Iranian flag amass in the waters of Strait of Hormuz on May 2, 2017 near Hormuz Island, Iran. An oil tanker is seen on the move in the background. (Photo by Kaveh Kazemi/Getty Images)
Mikhail Svetlov, Kaveh Kazemi/Getty Images

Venezuela’s Maduro regime has been employing ships tied to an international oil smuggling network supporting Iran alongside false documentation to export oil in defiance of U.S. sanctions, according to a report published by Reuters on Wednesday.

The news surfaces days after the Biden administration opened the door to legal imports of Venezuelan oil, heavily sanctioned by the Trump administration in 2019, in response to Maduro agreeing to superficial “talks” with members of Venezuela’s establishment “opposition.”

Reuters states that six shipping and oil trading specialists informed the news agency of the use of false documents to conceal cargoes originating from sanctioned countries, including Venezuela.

“It’s now becoming clear you cannot trust certificates of origin even when they come with official government documentation,” Cari Stinebower, a U.S.-based partner with law firm Winston & Strawn, told Reuters. Stinebower also mentioned that Iran pioneered the act of using false documentation to conceal the origin of cargoes — a tactic that, according to Stinebower, is now being adopted to transport sanctioned Venezuelan oil.

Iran and Venezuela are close ideological allies, a friendship initially strengthened under the rule of late dictator Hugo Chávez.

The Reuters report makes mention of the Chinese-owned ship Young Yung as an example of the sanctions-avoiding tactics being employed by both countries. The ship had sailed to the Chinese port of Qingdao in September 2021 with documentation that claimed that it was transporting crude oil of Malaysian origin — but, according to the report, satellite and photographic imagery evidenced that the ship had loaded its oil cargo in Venezuela.

The U.S. Department of Treasury sanctioned the Chinese-owned ship on November 3 for being part of an international oil smuggling network that facilitated and generated oil revenue for Hezbollah and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) – Quds Force, the “dirty tricks” brigade of a U.S.-designated terrorist organization.

Reuters claims that documents it reviewed originating from Venezuela’s state-owned oil company PDVSA stated that a vessel named Comuna loaded 1.98 million barrels of oil in the northeastern Venezuelan port of José between May 11-21 2021. But, according to independent monitoring company TankerTrackers.com, the vessel was in fact the Young Yong. Reuters noted that someone had appeared to paint over the ship’s name but it still retained identifiable characteristics.

Iran’s sanctions-avoiding assistance to Venezuela has not been limited to oil shipments. The Islamic nation has supplied Venezuela with cargo airplanes of alleged Iranian Quds Force origin, one of which was seized by Argentine authorities at the behest of the United States when it landed in the South American nation in August.

In addition to Iran, Venezuela has reported received aid from China to evade U.S. sanctions, shipping millions of barrels of oil to China through a Chinese state-owned defense firm since 2020 to offset the Maduro regime’s large debt to the Communist Party.

While the socialist regime has reportedly been evading U.S sanctions, the Biden administration recently granted oil sanctions relief to the rogue socialist nation in the form of a license granted to California-based Chevron that allows Chevron to once again produce and export oil from Venezuela.

Venezuelan Oil Minister Tarek El Aissami, a wanted criminal in America, stated via Twitter on Tuesday that he had held a meeting with Javier La Rosa, president of Chevron Venezuela, further stating that over the next hours, the socialist regime and Chevron will be signing new contracts to boost oil output through their joint ventures.

El Aissami, sanctioned by the United States and accused of being a drug kingpin, is long suspected of having ties to Hezbollah. The United States currently has an open $10 million bounty for information that can lead to the arrest and/or conviction of El Aissami.

Christian K. Caruzo is a Venezuelan writer and documents life under socialism. You can follow him on Twitter here.

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