Five U.S. citizens have been charged with an attempt to violate U.S. sanctions against Iran by buying oil from Iran and selling it in China, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania said in a statement.
The accused are all but one from Texas, with the last one from New York, and they were each charged with “one count of conspiracy and one count of violating IEEPA, based on allegations that from July 2019 to February 2020 they conspired in Philadelphia and elsewhere to arrange for the purchase of oil from the Islamic Republic of Iran, in violation of United States economic sanctions imposed on Iran, for sale to a refinery in China.”
Nicholas Hovan, age 33, of New York, NY;
Zhenyu Wang, a/k/a “Bill Wang,” age 39, of Dallas, TX;
Robert Thwaites, age 30, of Dallas, TX;
Nicholas James Fuchs, age 26, of Dallas, TX; and
Daniel Ray Lane, age 38, of McKinney, TX.
The alleged conspiracy involved a shell company based in Poland, through which they would buy the oil, with plans for two shipments every month that would generate profits seen at some $28 million monthly. What’s more, one of the accused, Daniel Ray Lane, had offered to launder the money from the sale of the Iranian oil through a company he owns called STACK Royalties.
“These defendants allegedly conspired to circumvent economic sanctions enacted to protect the United States’ national security,” a special agent from the FBI, which uncovered the scheme, said in the DoJ statement.
“In their minds, sanctions weren’t so much an impediment as an opportunity. They thought they could make their millions and escape the United States Government’s notice. Well, as these charges show, they were wrong. The FBI takes sanctions violations extremely seriously and will bring all our investigative resources to bear, to end such harmful and illegal activity.”
If the accused are convicted they will be facing a maximum prison sentence of 25 years and a fine of up to $1.25 million each.
The United States is pursuing a maximum pressure campaign against Iran aiming to cut off its oil export entirely, but so far the campaign has fallen short of its goal. However, the sanctions have severely reduced the flow of oil from Iran overseas, crippling the country’s economy.