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Iran's Revolutionary Guards Called For Travel Ban On Ex-Oil Officials To Prevent Disclosure Of Sanctions-Evading Tactics


The Iranian flag flies in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency's headquarters in Vienna, where several rounds of talks have been held aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.

Iran's powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) last year urged the judiciary to issue travel bans against several oil officials for fear they could expose the "secret" tactics Tehran has used to evade U.S. sanctions and sell its oil, according to a leaked confidential document.

The “highly confidential” IRGC document was leaked to the London-based Iran International television station by Edalat-e Ali (Ali's Justice), a hacktivist group that has previously disclosed secret documents and videos to Persian-language media outside the country, including RFE/RL's Radio Farda.

RFE/RL could not independently verify the authenticity of the document, which was written by the feared intelligence branch of the IRGC.

The eight-page text contains the names and national identification numbers of 37 mid-ranking officials and managers, including from the Oil Ministry as well as two state-owned companies, the National Iranian Oil Company and the National Iranian Tanker Company.

The document, dated September 6, 2021, addresses Tehran prosecutor Ali Alghasi-Mehr and cites the reasons the officials and managers should be banned from traveling abroad. They include preventing the individuals from revealing "secret information" about how Iran circumvents U.S. sanctions to sell its oil as well as alleged corruption and bribery.

The officials that are named were employed by the administration of former President Hassan Rohani, a relative moderate. Iran’s presidential election last June brought to power an ultraconservative government led by President Ebrahim Raisi.

Former Iranian President Hassan Rohani (left) stands as he hands over the powers of his office to ultraconservative Ebrahim Raisi (right) in Tehran in August 2021.
Former Iranian President Hassan Rohani (left) stands as he hands over the powers of his office to ultraconservative Ebrahim Raisi (right) in Tehran in August 2021.

It was unclear if the dozens of officials named in the leaked IRGC document retained their posts or were dismissed by the new government.

The leaked document appears to highlight the IRGC’s mistrust of Rohani’s administration, which reached the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and attempted to improve ties with the West.

An official from the National Iranian Oil Company named in the leaked document is accused of hiring dual nationals, who are viewed with suspicion by the IRGC. Several dual nationals have been arrested and convicted on espionage charges in recent years.

The IRGC accuses another oil official of “multilayered contacts with infiltration networks” and the Washington-based National Iranian American Council (NIAC), which says it aims to give a voice to the Iranian-American community.

An official with the Nikoo Oil Company, a subsidiary of the National Iranian Oil Company, is accused of being a potential troublemaker due to his access to “secret information” as well as his brother’s alleged ties to circles affiliated with the Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO), an exiled opposition group. The IRGC also cites the official’s “numerous nonbusiness trips outside the country” as well as his family’s residence in Spain.

Evading Sanctions

Iran’s hard-liners accused Rohani’s government of being under the influence of Western ideas.

Rohani, who came to power in 2013, pledged to improve Iran’s relations with the West. In 2015, his government signed an agreement with world powers that curbed Tehran’s nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions.

In 2018, then-U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew Washington from the deal and reimposed crippling sanctions against Iran, including its key energy sector.

Despite the punitive measures, Tehran continues to sell a limited supply of its oil, mostly to China. Iran has also used covert and illicit methods, including disguising the origins of its exports, hiding its shipping activities, and changing the names of vessels.

Washington has tried to prevent Tehran exporting oil by seizing Iranian oil tankers and sanctioning shipping companies. Washington has also reportedly reached out to China about cutting its oil purchases from Iran.

For nearly a year, Iran and world powers have been locked in negotiations aimed at reviving the nuclear deal and lifting sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy.

A meeting of the various delegations at the nuclear talks in Vienna. (file photo)
A meeting of the various delegations at the nuclear talks in Vienna. (file photo)

Iran’s Oil Minister Javad Owji said on March 12 that the United States’ seizure of Iranian oil tankers in recent months has failed to stop Tehran’s oil exports.

“The United States has on several occasions in the past months violated Iranian oil tankers to prevent the export of shipments," Javad Owji said in an interview carried by Iranian media.

"When the enemy realized it could not stop our exports and contracts, they went after our ships," Owji said.

Iranian oil exports increased to more than 1 million barrels per day for the first time in almost three years, Reuters reported in February, citing estimates from companies that track the flows.

A number of confidential documents and audio recordings have been leaked in recent months that have served to highlight the intensifying power struggle in Iran amid the country’s nuclear negotiations with the West.

Last year, leaked audio comments from former Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif about the IRGC’s interference in foreign policy caused a political storm in the country.

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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL focusing on Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is the author of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.

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