The US Justice Department (DoJ) issued a warrant on Friday for the seizure of the Iranian supertanker Grace 1. According to the document, the vessel, all the oil aboard and $995,000 are subject to forfeiture based on violations of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), bank fraud, money laundering, and terrorism forfeiture statutes.
The warrant also alleges that "a scheme to unlawfully access the US financial system to support illicit shipments to Syria from Iran by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a designated foreign terrorist organization. The scheme involves multiple parties affiliated with the IRGC and furthered by the deceptive voyages of the Grace 1. A network of front companies allegedly laundered millions of dollars in support of such shipments", according to the DoJ.
In addition, the document stresses that "a seizure warrant and a forfeiture complaint are merely allegations. The burden to prove forfeitability in a civil forfeiture proceeding is upon the government", according to the Justice Department.
The vessel was released on Thursday after Gibraltar reportedly received assurances from the captain that the tanker would not deliver its cargo to Syria, UK-based media outlets broke this news earlier. The crew members were also set free.
However, a spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, Abbas Mousavi, said on Friday that Tehran had not provided guarantees that its oil tanker Grace 1 would not go to Syria upon its release. Mousavi confirmed an earlier Foreign Ministry statement that the oil tanker was not heading to Syria when it was detained off Gibraltar's coast by UK marines on 4 July. Meanwhile, he noted that Iran was providing to Syria support in such spheres as energy and oil.
The United States reportedly made a last-ditch attempt to seize Grace 1 mere hours before Gibraltar was poised to set it free, with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, slamming the move as piracy.
The US Department of State on Thursday threatened any individuals linked to the Iranian Grace 1 oil tanker with "serious consequences," including visa restrictions due to alleged links to the IRGC.
Washington and Tehran have been in conflict since the US withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal last year, also commonly known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), re-imposing sanctions on the Middle Eastern nation.
The move was followed by an escalation of tensions in the Persian Gulf in which several tankers had been attacked, prompting the United States to increase its military presence in the region. Iran, in its turn, downed a US drone over the coastal Hormozgan area, in its territorial waters, prompting threats by the United States.