WASHINGTON (CN) — A grand jury returned indictments Tuesday against five Russians and three Syrians accused of violating U.S. sanctions by shipping jet fuel and money to Syria.
The 32-page federal indictment accuses the eight foreign nationals of setting up front companies and falsifying shipping records and wire transfers to help Joint Stock Company Sovfracht, a Russian shipping firm, deliver jet fuel to Syria.
The five Russians named in the indictment work for Sovfracht, along with one of the Syrians. The two other indicted Syrians work as inspectors at Syria’s Port Banias.
The indictment details multiple shipments into Syria, quoting heavily from emails that purport to show the alleged conspirators’ efforts to circumvent sanctions through front companies and false information.
In the first shipment to Port Banias mentioned in the indictment, Sovfracht wired more than $31,000 through a front company, while one of the alleged co-conspirators wrote in an email to keep secret the movements of a tanker carrying the shipment, warning that “some parties try to use this information’s (sic) against our country to impede the tankers to arrive Syrian terminals because the western sanctions (sic).”
In a later shipment, an unindicted co-conspirator allegedly turned off a GPS transponder on the tanker, preventing it from being tracked into Port Banias. The group later listed the destination on two of its shipments as “open seas” and “open sea,” though in reality they were heading back to Syria.
Economic sanctions have been in place against Syria in some form since 2004, and in 2011, U.S. banks stopped approving wire transactions to Sovfracht. The company also came under U.S. sanction in 2016 for its actions in Crimea, prohibiting it from accessing the U.S. financial system or receiving “any good, technology, or services,” from the United States, according to the indictment.”
According to the indictment, several of the alleged conspirators set up Maritime Assistance LLC in October 2016 to help bypass the sanctions against Sovfracht, taking over contracts for the company and hiring some of its employees.
“The U.S. sanctions on Syria and Crimea thwart Syria’s support of terrorism and its pursuit and use of weapons of mass destruction, as well as the actions of those who seek to undermine Ukraine’s democratic processes and territorial integrity,” Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers said in a statement.
“The defendants allegedly conspired to defy our sanctions against Syria and Crimea, endangering both American interests in the region as well as our foreign policy and national security at home. I applaud the investigators who helped bring these alleged violations to light and the violators to justice.”
The eight people indicted are Ivan Okorokov, Karen Stepanyan, Ilya Loginov, Alexey Konkov, Liudmila Shmelkova, Yaser Naser, Farid Bitar and Gabriel Bitar. EIf convicted, each faces up to five 5 in prison for conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, and 20 years for conspiracy to commit money laundering.