Apparently the month long saga of the Grace-1 is not at all over, and may now seriously escalate even after it was set free from custody. Just as the Iranian supertanker was released from custody off Gibraltar and is preparing to make its way into the Mediterranean, a seizure warrant filed by the US Department of Justice was unsealed in a US district court late Friday.
Documents allege “a scheme to unlawfully access the U.S. financial system to support illicit shipments to Syria from Iran by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps,” the DoJ said in a statement.
The seizure warrant and forfeiture complaint alleges the now Iranian-flagged tanker along with its over two million barrels of oil aboard it and $995,000 “are subject to forfeiture,” citing terrorism forfeiture statutes, and bank fraud and money laundering.
“The scheme involves multiple parties affiliated with the IRGC and furthered by the deceptive voyages of the Grace 1,” US Attorney for the District of Columbia Jessie Liu said in a press release. “A network of front companies allegedly laundered millions of dollars in support of such shipments.”
The warrant is addressed to “the United States Marshal’s Service and/or any other duly authorized law enforcement officer.”
According to Reuters, the Grace 1 - now renamed the Adrian Darya after Iran began flying its flag over the previously Panamanian-flagged tanker - may not have made it far though it was filmed moving on Friday. "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 report said.
Given that no doubt the US warrant means leaders in Tehran will be livid, and now with the possibility that American military assets could potentially make a move to actually board the vessel or perhaps even block its as yet unknown route, this puts the fate of the UK-flagged Stena Impero — still under IRGC control — in jeopardy.
It's expected that Iran will release the detained Stena Impero in a tit-for-tat gesture, as Tehran had initially expressed a desire for, possibly at some point this weekend. The US warrant will definitely delay this and quash any level of good faith signalling between Iran and the UK.
What's more is it looks like the US is ready to pursue sanctions busting consequences to the max, down to ship owners and crew: “A message to all mariners – if you crew an IRGC or other FTO-affiliated ship, you jeopardize future entry to the U.S.,” Secretary Mike Pompeo said in a tweet Friday.