State Department Backs Off Tying Israeli Group to Iran Ship Sale

The State Department backed off a plan to impose sanctions on an Israeli company that the U.S. had said was involved in a sale of an oil tanker to Iran.

A “clarification” issued by the State Department today removes an entity it had called the “Ofer Brothers Group” from a list of companies that had been targeted for sanctions in May for doing business with Iran’s energy industry.

“This action clears our name,” Ofer Holdings Group said in a written statement. “Today’s formal clarification makes it clear that none of Ofer Holdings Group Ltd., its subsidiaries or any other Israeli entity is subject to sanctions under the Iran Sanctions Act.”

The U.S. took action today to show that “we were not seeking to sanction the entire conglomerate,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at her daily briefing in Washington. “We were seeking to sanction those entities which were trading with Iran.”

In making its clarification, the State Department today imposed sanctions instead on two companies it identified as “owned by the late Sammy Ofer:” Monaco-based Societe Anonyme Monegasque d’Administration Maritime et Aerienne, or SAMAMA, and Allvale Maritime Inc., of Liberia.

The State Department in May had targeted what it called Ofer Brothers Group and two other companies for their alleged role in a September 2010 sale of a tanker valued at $8.65 million to the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines.

The May announcement “caused some confusion among banks and others that were trying to comply with the new sanctions,” a State Department spokeswoman, Julie Reside, said today.

Billionaire Brothers

The billionaire Ofer brothers, one of the richest families in Israel, had denied the charge and fought for months to clear their name.

“We are relieved that the U.S. State Department has made this important clarification,” the Ofer family said in a written statement. “This is an important step forward.”

The sanctions imposed under the Iran Sanctions Act bar companies from securing financing from the Export-Import Bank of the United States, from obtaining loans of more than $10 million from U.S. financial institutions, and from receiving U.S. export licenses, the State Department said.

SAMAMA was the lead ship manager for Allvale, the owner of the tanker Raffles Park, SAMAMA said in a written statement. It said the company was “committed to implementing effective remedial action so that we meet our ongoing sanctions compliance obligations and ensure that this type of incident will not recur.”

Iranian Interests

SAMAMA had subcontracted management of the tanker to Tanker Pacific Management Pte Ltd. of Singapore, which was also targeted for sanctions.

Tanker Pacific said it managed the sale of the Raffles Park to Coral Light Asset Corp. of Panama.

“Had we known that the buyers were acting on behalf of Iranian interests, this sale would never have gone ahead,” Tanker Pacific said in a written statement.

The State Department has sought to increase pressure on Iran to curb its “illicit nuclear activities.” Iran has maintained its nuclear program is designed for civilian energy needs.

Brothers Sammy and Yuli Ofer didn’t live long enough to see the U.S. “clarification.” Sammy Ofer died in June, while Yuli Ofer died on Sept. 11, at the age of 87.

To contact the reporter on this story: David Lerman in Washington at dlerman1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net

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