The US Treasury has targeted three people, 14 entities and six ships because of their alleged links to a network trying to help Venezuela’s oil sector.
The United States on Tuesday sanctioned a network of oil trading companies, individuals and ships that helped Venezuelan state-owned oil company Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) sell crude primarily in Asia despite Washington’s sanctions against the South American nation.
The measure targets a network which, according to the US Treasury Department, aided the administration of President Nicolas Maduro, whose 2018 re-election in Washington described as a sham, the sale of hundreds of millions of dollars of Venezuelan oil.
“Those who facilitate the illegitimate Maduro regime’s attempts to circumvent US sanctions are contributing to the corruption that is consuming Venezuela,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a press release.
The US Treasury said its Office of Foreign Assets Control, or OFAC, had targeted three people, 14 entities and six ships for their links to a network trying to evade US sanctions on Venezuela’s oil sector.
He said the “main players” were Alessandro Bazzoni, Francisco D’Agostino and Philipp Apikian, as well as oil trading companies including Elemento Ltd and Swissoil Trading SA.
Washington first imposed sanctions on PDVSA by limiting its oil sales in early 2019, which cut off its main export destination, the United States. The measure was followed last year by sanctions against two units of PDVSA’s main trading partner, Russia’s Rosneft, as well as shipping sanctions blacklisting tankers involved in the transport.
The FBI began probing Elemento and Swissoil last year, as well as Libre Abordo and Schlager Business Group, based in Mexico, with the aim of collecting information for the Treasury’s investigation into a possible violation of sanctions. Libre Abordo, Schlager and Mexican citizens Joaquin Leal Jimenez, Olga Maria Zepeda and Veronica Esparza were punished in June.
Venezuela’s information and petroleum ministries, PDVSA, Libre Abordo, Schlager and Elemento did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Reuters could not immediately reach Swissoil, Bazzoni, Apikian, D’Agostino, Leal, Zepeda or Esparza.
Tuesday’s decision broadens the sanctions against individuals and businesses based in Mexico for “putting in place a system of circumvention of sanctions for the benefit of the illegitimate regime of Maduro and PDVSA.”
“Today’s action targets other orchestrators and facilitators linked to the Mexican network who conspired with Maduro’s oil minister Tareck El Aissami Maddah and indicted money launderer Alex Nain Saab Moran to negotiate the sale of hundreds of millions of dollars of Venezuelan oil, ”says the Treasury.
El Aissami and Saab are also subject to US sanctions. Saab was shut down last year in Cape Verde.
The United States accuses Bazzoni and D’Agostino of being the “main facilitators” of the network, linking Swissoil, led by Apikian, and Elemento with PDVSA and Saab.
“Following the arrest of Saab in June 2020 in Cape Verde and the designation of Leal by OFAC, Bazzoni took over the role of grassroots coordination in the ongoing program aimed at negotiating the resale of crude oil from Venezuelan origin of PDVSA and chartered vessels ready to go to Venezuela to load oil, ”said the Treasury.
The OFAC also blacklist this time the Fides Ship Management based in Ukraine and its fleet of tankers including the ships Baliar, Balita, Domani and Freedom, as well as the tankers Maximo Gorki, owned by the Venezuelan water authority INEA , and Sierra, owned by the Russian company Rustanker.
Ships on the blacklist have been carrying Venezuelan crude since sanctions were imposed on PDVSA in 2019, according to company data and vessel tracking data from Refinitiv Eikon.
INEA did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Reuters was unable to immediately contact Fides Ship Management or Rustanker.