The US Justice Department on Thursday said it had filed a seizure complaint against several vessels carrying Iranian missiles to Yemen and others carrying petroleum to Venezuela.
The US Navy conducted two separate interceptions in November 2019 and February 2020 of flagless vessels in the Arabian Sea with large quantities of weapons the department said were from Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
“Aboard both of the vessels were large stocks of weapons, including 171 guided anti-tank missiles, eight surface-to-air missiles and various other missile components,” assistant attorney general for national security John Demers said.
“Additional analysis revealed that the arms were from the IRGC-Quds Force and destined for militant groups in Yemen.”
Iran backs Yemen’s Houthi rebels in their war against the government.
The Saudi-led Arab Coalition fighting alongside government forces said on Wednesday that it had shot down rockets aimed at civilian areas in the cities of Najran and Jizan near the Yemeni border.
Elliott Abrams, the State Department’s special envoy for Iran and Venezuela, repeated threats to use unilateral US sanctions on any country engaged in weapons deals with Iran.
Washington failed to persuade the UN Security Council to extend a conventional arms embargo on Tehran, which expired this month.
But the UN maintains a separate arms embargo on Yemen.
“It shows the Iranian regime’s continued disregard for the binding UN Security Council resolutions behind which it so often hides,” Mr Abrams said.
“We are prepared to use all our available domestic authorities in sanctioning any individual or entity that materially contributes to the supply, sale, financing or transfer of conventional arms to or from Iran.
“Iran has announced its intention to engage in arms sales and Venezuela is an obvious target, given the relationship between the pariah states.”
The Justice Department also announced that it sold 1.1 million barrels of Iranian petroleum after obtaining a warrant to seize the cargo from foreign-flagged vessels bound for Venezuela, on the grounds that the sale would benefit the IRGC.
“It is with great satisfaction that I can announce that our intentions are to take the funds successfully forfeited from the fuel sales and provide them to the United States Victims of State-sponsored Terrorism Fund after the conclusion of the case,” Mr Dermer said.
The acting US attorney for the District of Columbia, Michael Sherwin, estimated that the US made a profit of about $40 million from selling the Iranian fuel bound for Venezuela.
The US Treasury Department also announced sanctions on eight people and entities in Iran, China and Singapore for transactions with the Iranian petrochemical sector.
The latest sanctions come after Treasury on Monday designated the National Iranian Oil Company, the National Iranian Tanker Company and the Ministry of Petroleum under counter-terrorism authorities in a bid to make it more difficult for Joe Biden to re-enter the nuclear deal with Iran should he win the US election.
The Justice Department first filed the case to seize the weapons and ships bound for Yemen in August, and the case to seize the Venezuela-bound fuel in July.
But Mr Sherwin denied that the timing of the announcement was related to the election on November 3.