WASHINGTON/GIBRALTAR • Newly released US court documents show that the United States issued a warrant for the seizure of an Iranian tanker that British Royal Marines had seized last month in Gibraltar, citing evidence that it was transporting oil to Syria in violation of US sanctions.
The oil tanker Grace 1, the more than two million barrels of oil it carries and US$995,000 (S$1.4 million) are subject to forfeiture based on a complaint by the US government, US Attorney for the District of Columbia Jessie Liu said in a statement on Friday.
The tanker was seized by the British at the western mouth of the Mediterranean on July 4 on suspicion of violating European Union sanctions by taking oil to Syria, a close ally of Iran.
In a court document obtained by Reuters, it said evidence showed that the tanker was scheduled to arrive in Syria early last month.
"Charts and electronic equipment recovered from on board the Grace 1, WhatsApp messages recovered from crew members' mobile devices, and crew members' statements revealed that the Grace 1 was destined for Port Banias, Syria, in violation of US sanctions," it said.
Iran has repeatedly denied that the tanker's destination was Syria.
"As we said earlier... Syria was not its destination and we have upheld the same... and reiterated that it was nobody's business even if it was Syria," Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi was quoted as saying by Tasnim news agency on Friday.
The Gibraltar authorities said on Thursday the US Department of Justice had applied to seize the tanker.
Washington had attempted to detain the Grace 1 on the grounds that it had links to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which it has designated a terrorist organisation. "The scheme involves multiple parties affiliated with the IRGC and furthered by the deceptive voyages of the Grace 1," Ms Liu said in the statement.
"A network of front companies allegedly laundered millions of dollars in support of such shipments."
The statement said: "A seizure warrant and a forfeiture complaint are merely allegations. The burden to prove forfeitability in a civil forfeiture proceeding is upon the government."
Gibraltar, which said it first received a US Department of Justice request to seize the Grace 1 tanker on Thursday, lifted the tanker's detention order later in the same day.
But the vessel's fate was further complicated by a last-ditch US legal appeal to hold it.
The tanker shifted its position on Friday, but its anchor was still down off Gibraltar and it was unclear if it was ready to set sail soon.
The seizure warrant was issued by the US District Court for the District of Columbia and addressed to "the United States Marshal's Service and/or any other duly authorised law enforcement officer". The US State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on how the warrant may be enforced.
The Gibraltar Chronicle newspaper reported that the vessel was unlikely to sail before today, citing an unnamed source who added that it was waiting for six new crew members, including a captain, to arrive.