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Thursday, Sep 19, 2019

US offered money to Indian ship captain, Iran calls it blackmail

The tanker was seized by British commandoes off Gibraltar in July — its was then called the Grace 1 — as it was suspected to be carrying Iranian oil to Syria in breach of EU sanctions.

world Updated: Sep 05, 2019 19:48 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
A crew member raises the Iranian flag on Iranian oil tanker Adrian Darya 1, previously named Grace 1, as it sits anchored after the Supreme Court of the British territory lifted its detention order, in the Strait of Gibraltar.
A crew member raises the Iranian flag on Iranian oil tanker Adrian Darya 1, previously named Grace 1, as it sits anchored after the Supreme Court of the British territory lifted its detention order, in the Strait of Gibraltar.(Reuters)
         

An Indian captain of an Iranian oil tanker was offered several million dollars by a top US state department official to steer the vessel to a port where it could be impounded and was slapped with sanctions last week when he did not respond in a move that Teheran has since slammed as “outright blackmail”.

“This is Brian Hook . . . I work for secretary of state Mike Pompeo and serve as the US Representative for Iran,” the official, Special Representative Brian Hook, wrote to Akhilesh Kumar, the captain, on August 26, in an email seen by the Financial Times, which first reported this development. “I am writing with good news.”

Hook offered Kumar several million dollars to steer the tanker, Adrian Darya 1 (earlier called the Grace 1), to a port where it could be impounded and handed over to US authorities. It could not be immediately ascertained if the captain responded to the offer, and how if at all.

But Hook followed up with a second one. “With this money you can have any life you wish and be well-off in old age,” the official, who heads the Iran Action Group at the state department wrote in the second mail. “If you choose not to take this easy path, life will be much harder for you.”

And it indeed could. The United States designated him last Friday under a government authority that targets targets terrorists and those providing support to terrorism or acts of terrorism. His ship was sanctioned, as a blocked property.

Iran’s foreign minister Javed Zarif said on twitter: “Having failed at piracy, the US resorts to outright blackmail—deliver us Iran’s oil and receive several million dollars or be sanctioned yourself.”

On Wednesday, US treasury announced more sanctions in a crackdown on the so-called oil-for-terror network run by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF), designating, in this instance, a Mumbai-based company, the Mehdi Group, and its subsidiaries, branches and officials.

Kumar’s ship, the Adrian Darya 1, was not owned by this company bu the United States suggested they were linked.

The tanker was seized by British commandoes off Gibraltar in July — its was then called the Grace 1 — as it was suspected to be carrying Iranian oil to Syria in breach of EU sanctions. After its release it had bounced around the Mediterranean sea as no country would let it in. It is now suspected it got rid of its cargo, bound for Syria, in a ship-to-ship transfer.

A US state department spokesperson described the FT report as “accurate” and said it was a part of an “extensive outreach to several ship captains as well as shipping companies warning them of the consequences of providing support to a Foreign Terrorist Organization”.

Hook had sent many such emails, offering money. The state department on Wednesday announced $15 million reward for information about the IRGC-QF-led oil-for-terror network under a “Reward for Justice” programme.

First Published: Sep 05, 2019 19:48 IST