U.S. prosecutors have filed a lawsuit to seize the gasoline aboard four tankers that Iran is currently shipping to Venezuela, the latest attempt to increase pressure on the two sanctioned anti-American allies.
The civil-forfeiture complaint filed in the District of Columbia federal court late on July 1 claims the sale was arranged by an Iranian businessman with ties to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization.
Since September 2018, the IRGC's elite Quds Force has moved oil through a sanctioned shipping network involving dozens of ship managers, vessels, and facilitators, according to the lawsuit.
"The profits from these activities support the IRGC's full range of nefarious activities, including the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery, support for terrorism, and a variety of human rights abuses, at home and abroad," the prosecutors alleged.
Iran's mission to the United Nations said that any attempt by the United States to prevent Iranian lawful trading with any country of its choosing would be an act of "piracy."
The four tankers named in the complaint -- the Bella, Bering, Pandi, and Luna -- are carrying 1.1 million barrels of gasoline, the U.S. prosecutors said.
The Justice Department said on July 2 that U.S. District Judge James Boasberg issued a warrant to seize all the gasoline on the vessels, "based on a probable cause showing of forfeitability."
The United States has been pressing for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's ouster with a campaign of diplomatic and punitive measures, including sanctions on its energy sector.
The South American country is suffering from a gasoline shortage amid a ravaging economic crisis.
Tensions have been on the rise between Tehran and Washington since 2018, when the United States withdrew from a landmark 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers and reimposed crippling sanctions that have battered the Iranian economy.