Iran Economy NewsUS sanctions Hong Kong shippers over Iran trade

US sanctions Hong Kong shippers over Iran trade

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AFP: The US Treasury Thursday slapped sanctions on 24 shipping companies, including 20 in Hong Kong, for allegedly operating as fronts for Iranian businesses involved in Tehran’s missile programs.

by Paul Handley

WASHINGTON, January 13, 2011 (AFP) – The US Treasury Thursday slapped sanctions on 24 shipping companies, including 20 in Hong Kong, for allegedly operating as fronts for Iranian businesses involved in Tehran’s missile programs.

The Treasury said the shipping firms were affiliated with the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL), which is under international sanctions for its role in Iran’s weapons program.

It also designated two companies tied to the Iranian defense ministry’s Aerospace Industries Organization (AIO), which has been linked to the country’s ballistic missile program.

The Treasury’s move, aimed at putting pressure on Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program, will cut off the designated firms from the US financial and commercial systems.

“IRISL is under tremendous financial pressure from international sanctions, and it is going to extreme lengths to obscure its network and the ownership of vessels,” the Treasury’s sanctions czar Stuart Levey said in a statement.

“Today’s designations expose the latest in a string of deceptive measures Iran is taking to continue its illicit conduct.”

Twenty of the 24 shipping companies were tied to two addresses in Hong Kong.

Four of those were owned and managed by Ahmad Sarkandi and Ghasem Nabipour, who were already designated by the US last October for working on IRISL’s behalf, the Treasury said.

Another 16 of the Hong Kong firms were said to be owned or controlled by IRISL, and operated a number of vessels on behalf of the Iranian shipping group.

The other four shipping companies share registered addresses on Britain’s Isle of Man with other IRISL-linked firms.

The two AIO-tied companies were identified as Shahid Ahmad Kazemi Industries Group and M. Babaie Industries.

The Treasury said Shahid Ahmad Kazemi Industries was “suspected of soliciting foreign technology for Iran’s missile programs and participating in North Korea’s missile-related programs.”

M. Babaie was listed under the sanctions for “being owned or controlled by, or acting for or on behalf” of AIO.

The US has stepped up its efforts to isolate Iran-linked commercial entities tied to its military development programs since the UN Security Council placed a fourth set of sanctions against Iran in June 2010.

The UN acted after Iran refused to halt its uranium enrichment work, the most sensitive part of Tehran’s controversial atomic drive.

But Tehran insists it is only seeking to meet the energy needs of its population in its nuclear programs.

Speaking in Abu Dhabi on Monday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton defended the sanctions, saying they have made it difficult for Iran to pursue its nuclear program.

“They have made it much more difficult for Iran to pursue its nuclear ambitions. Iran has technological problems that have made it slow down its timetable,” she said.

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