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Arab Companies Claim Owning Seized Iranian Gasoline

VENEZUELA -- The Iranian oil tanker Fortune is anchored at the dock of El Palito refinery near Puerto Cabello, May 25, 2020

Four companies from Oman and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have claimed ownership of gasoline shipments sent by Iran to Venezuela that were seized by the United States last month.

The U.S. seized more than 1.2 million barrels of alleged Iranian gasoline in August, with the cargo allegedly headed to the U.S.-sanctioned nation of Venezuela.

On Tuesday, four Persian Gulf-based Arab companies filed a lawsuit in a Washington, D.C. district court over the confiscated oil tankers, claiming that their cargo was not sailing to Venezuela. and that the incident had resulted in lost business and revenue.

UAE-based Mobin International, owned by Samika Kohli, asserted it was the owner of the cargo aboard the Bella and Bering tankers. Oman Fuel, registered in the UK and owned by Mahmoud Madanipour, claimed the cargo's ownership on the Pandi and Luna, while Oman-registered Sohar Fuel claimed a part of the Luna cargo.

The U.S. has previously accused Iranian oil trader, Mahmoud Madanipour, of masterminding the alleged Venezuela oil shipments using offshore front companies and ship-to-ship transfers to get around sanctions on Iran.

A shadowy figure, Madanipour is said to have close ties with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps.

Based on wire reports, a Greek company operated all of the tankers, while the Wall Street Journal had previously reported that the Greek company owner, Giorgios Gialozoglou, had "voluntarily" agreed to surrender Iranian oil shipments to the US authorities following threats of sanctions.

The Arab companies claim to have sold gasoline shipments to a UAE company, City Energy, but the money was to be settled only after the cargos delivered to customers. Reuters says that City Energy has since refrained from responding to the inquiry.

Meanwhile, the Arab companies have claimed that the seized cargos were sold to Peruvian and Columbian buyers and scheduled to be delivered to Trinidad & Tobago, in the Venezuela-Columbia marine border in the Caribbean Sea.

Immediately after the shipments' seizure, Iranian officials claimed that the cargos did not belong to Iran. Nevertheless, the Iranian Oil Minister, Bijan Namdar Zanganeh, confirmed on August 17 that the shipments belonged to Iran but had been sold and delivered to Venezuela on a FOB basis, and the financial deal settled.

As a result, Iranian officials' claims verified that the destination of the gasoline shipments was indeed Venezuela.

The confiscated gasoline is reportedly valued at around $55 million. At the time of seizure, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) said it was the "largest-ever seizure of fuel shipments from Iran."

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also suggested that the revenue from the confiscated shipments could be granted to the American victims of government-sponsored terrorism.

Three months ago, Iran also shipped 1.5 million barrels of gasoline to Venezuela, and all shipments were delivered.