The US placed sanctions on a Greek businessman and his companies Thursday for allegedly helping Iran avoid international restrictions to export oil.
The Treasury Department said Dmitris Cambis bought oil tankers using Iranian funds and transported Iranian oil, disguising its origin, to evade an international effort to shut down much of Tehran's earnings from oil sales.
"Today we are lifting the veil on an intricate Iranian scheme that was designed to evade international oil sanctions," said Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen.
The Treasury said in a statement that Cambis, the president of Impire Shipping Limited, bought the tankers on behalf of the National Iranian Tanker Company.
Iranian oil was loaded on them by ship-to-ship transfers to mask the origin of the oil, the Treasury said.
The Treasury extended the sanctions to 10 companies in Greece and four in the United Arab Emirates and eight vessels that it said Cambis used to help Iran ship oil abroad.
The Treasury said the four UAE-based firms were Iranian government front companies.
The sanctions, established to prevent Iran from earning money to fund its alleged nuclear weapons program, forbid Americans and US companies from undertaking transactions involving the companies and vessels named.
Iran denies its nuclear program is aimed at developing weapons.
Cambis told media two weeks ago that his purchases of the eight aging VLCC-class tankers last year had no links to Iran and that they were not involved in ship-to-ship transfers of Iranian crude.
But, speaking anonymously, a senior US administration official said Thursday they have abundant evidence to support the action against Cambis.
"We are confident in our information. This is not at the edge," the official said.
Reportedly, at least some of the oil went to China, but the official declined to identify its destination or who bought it.
However, the official said, "We don't have any evidence that any possible recipient of this oil was involved in sanctionable practices associated with these shipments."
"We are still looking at the full scope of these activities."
The official also would not say how much was shipped, but noted that the tankers were each large enough to carry some $200 million worth of crude in one shipment.
"We cut off this scheme very early on, so far less oil was delivered than had been intended by the people who set it up."