2 convicted in attempting to break sanctions against Iranian oil

The Iranian oil supertanker Grace 1, which was intercepted by British Royal Marines and Gibraltar's police in the Strait of Gibraltar, sails near Algeciras, Spain, in 2019. Recently, two men were arrested trying to evade sanctions against Iranian oil, Justice Depatment officials said. File Photo by A. Carrasco Ragel/EPA-EFE

Nov. 17 (UPI) -- The Justice Department announced on Friday that a Pennsylvania federal court convicted two Texas-based men this week for trying to bypass U.S. sanctions to illegally sell oil from Iran.

A federal court convicted Zhenyu "Bill" Wang, 42, of Dallas, and Daniel Ray Lane, 42, of McKinney, Texas, at a trial that ended on Wednesday. They were charged with attempting to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, conspiracy to violate IEEPA, and conspiracy to commit money laundering in connection with their attempt to transact in sanctioned Iranian petroleum and launder the proceeds.

"The defendants, in this case, flouted the national security interests of the United States by directly violating economic sanctions," U.S. Attorney Jacqueline C. Romero for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, said in a statement.

"Conspiring to violate sanctions and commit money laundering in the process is a serious offense and will not be tolerated."

Prosecutors said that, in 2019 and early 2020, the defendants engaged in a conspiracy to purchase petroleum from Iran. They then planned to mask the origins of the petroleum and sell it to a refinery in China, authorities said.

Justice Department officials said the defendants also attempted to conceal their illegal transactions by obtaining foreign passports, engaging in sham contractual agreements, and conspiring to launder the proceeds of the sale through shell entities and offshore financial accounts.

Authorities said in one instance, Lane offered to use the mineral rights that his company sold to launder proceeds for the Iranian sellers while Wang arranged for bribe payments to be paid to Chinese officials and bankers.

"For financial gain, these co-conspirators sought to evade sanctions put in place to protect the United States' national security," said Acting Special Agent in Charge Richard Langham of the FBI Philadelphia Field Office. "A criminally bad idea, as this verdict clearly shows. The FBI will bring all our investigative resources to the table to halt such harmful acts."

The Biden administration has been ratcheting up sanctions against Iran in recent months.

In April, the Treasury Department sanctioned Mehdi Khoshghadam, managing director of Iran's Pardazan System Namad Arman, charging he used front companies to evade sanction efforts that covered military components.

In March, the administration hit Iran with multiple sanctions and blacklisted a China-based network for allegedly supplying Tehran with parts for drones used by Russia in Ukraine and a "shadow banking" sanctions-evasion network.

In another separate round of sanctions in March targeted entities and people connected with Iran's petroleum, and petrochemical trade industries.