THE NEW YORK TIMES
The United States on Tuesday blacklisted what it described as a global network of front companies controlled by Iran’s top leaders, accusing them of hiding assets and generating billions of dollars worth of revenue to help Tehran evade Western sanctions over its disputed nuclear program.
The action, taken by the Treasury Department, was one of the broadest in the American-led effort to isolate and pressure Iran economically. It was the fourth time in a week that the Obama administration had escalated sanctions on Iran and the first time it had accused the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, of personally directing an effort to bypass them.
“Even as economic conditions in Iran deteriorate, senior Iranian leaders profit from a shadowy network of off-the-books front companies,” David S. Cohen, the Treasury under secretary who oversees the sanctions effort, said in a statement announcing the new action.
The statement identified 37 companies, including enterprises in Germany, South Africa, Croatia and the United Arab Emirates, that it said operated as a labyrinth of “ostensibly private businesses” directed by the Execution of Imam Khomeini’s Order, known as EIKO, run by Ayatollah Khamenei and his immediate subordinates.
The statement said the companies exploited favorable loan rates from Iranian banks for the profitable sale and management of property, including real estate in Iran that had been confiscated by EIKO from Iranians living abroad.
The main purpose of EIKO, the Treasury statement said, was to hide billions of dollars in corporate profits, “evade our sanctions and escape international isolation.”
The Treasury’s action was announced on the same day that Mr. Cohen testified before a Senate committee on the effectiveness of the Obama administration’s sanction regimen. Although Iran has suffered economically, its leaders have shown no willingness to compromise on the nuclear dispute and have described the sanctions as a futile attempt by the United States and its Western allies to bully them into concessions.
The nuclear dispute is centered on Iran’s uranium enrichment activities, which it calls peaceful and legal but which Western nations suspect is a cover for developing the ability to make atomic bombs. The United Nations Security Council has repeatedly demanded that Iran halt the enrichment until it resolves unanswered questions; Iran has rejected those demands as unwarranted.
Talks aimed at resolving the dispute have stalled in advance of the Iranian presidential elections on June 14. The eight candidates include Saeed Jalili, a hard-line protégé of Ayatollah Khamenei who has rejected any deal in which Iran would relinquish uranium enrichment.
Under United States sanctions policies, blacklisted Iranian companies or individuals are banned from doing business with any American companies or individuals and have their American assets frozen. In addition, the sanctions policies threaten heavy penalties, including a ban from the United States market, to any company or individual that helps Iran evade the sanctions.
Over the past week, the Obama administration has blacklisted Iranian petrochemical companies, its automotive industry and more than 50 Iranian officials, and has threatened to sanction foreign banks that trade or hold Iran’s national currency, the rial.
There was no immediate response to the latest sanctions from Tehran, where on Tuesday Ayatollah Khamenei and other top leaders were commemorating the 24th anniversary of the death of his predecessor, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic. But in a speech carried by Iran’s state-run media, Ayatollah Khamenei, who has the final say on Iran’s nuclear policy, warned that whoever wins the election next week should never compromise on the nuclear issue.
“Some have the wrong analysis that by giving concessions to enemies, their anger toward Iran will be reduced,” he said. “This is a mistake.”