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US sanctions target Iranian-linked ‘front company network’

A view of the North entrance of the U.S. Treasury Building in Washington D.C. (Sealy j/Wikimedia Commons)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The U.S. Treasury Department says it has disrupted what it calls a “large scale front company network” that has transferred more than $1 billion to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the Iranian Defense Ministry in violation of U.S. sanctions against Iran.

In a March 26 statement, the Treasury Department announced fresh sanctionsagainst 25 individuals and entities it says are part of the network — including “front companies” based in Iran, the United Arab Emirates, and Turkey.

The statement said the action “exposes an extensive sanctions evasion network established by the Iranian regime” that Tehran increasingly relies upon as a “maximum pressure campaign” by the United States “severely constricts the regime’s sources of revenue.”

It said the Iranian-linked network is comprised of banks and other financial institutions — including the IRGC-controlled Ansar Bank, and a number of Iranian firms the bank owns or has under its control.

Those include Ansar Exchange, Atlas Company, Atlas Exchange, the Ansar Bank Brokerage Company, and Ansar Information Technology.

Also named is Zagros Pardis Kish. According to the U.S. Treasury, that firm was involved in the acquisition by Iran’s Defense Ministry of hundreds of vehicles shipped from the United Arab Emirates to Iran.

“Multiple UAE-based firms were used to pay for and ship the vehicles,” the Treasury Department statement said.

One individual placed under fresh U.S. sanctions is Ayatollah Ebrahimi.

The Treasury Department says Ebrahimi was recruited into the IRGC at the age of 14 and has been the managing director of Ansar Bank since 2005.

‘Vast Network’

The Treasury Department also imposed sanctions on Alirez Atabaki, the manager director of Ansar Exchange.

It says Atabaki has worked with the IRGC’s foreign operations branch, the IRGC-QF, as recently as early 2019 to coordinate financial transactions “using an identified IRGC-QF front company.”

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the IRGC, Iran’s Defense Ministry and “other malign actors in Iran continue to exploit the international financial system to evade sanctions, while the regime funds terrorism and other destabilizing activities across the region.”

“Central to this network and sanctioned today pursuant to our counterterrorism authority is Iran’s IRGC-controlled Ansar Bank and its currency exchange arm, Ansar Exchange,” said Sigal Mandelker, the U.S. treasury under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.

Mandekler said both of those financial institutions “used layers of intermediary entities to exchange devalued Iranian rial ultimately for dollars and euros to line the pockets of the IRGC” and Iran’s Defense Ministry.

“This vast network is just the latest example of the Iranian regime’s use of deceptive practices to exploit the global financial system and divert resources to sanctioned entities,” Mandelker said.

“This once again exposes to the international community the dangerous risks of operating in an Iranian economy that is deliberately opaque,” he said.