ofer - Moti Kimche - May 30 2011
Sami Ofer Photo by Moti Kimche
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The Ofer Brothers Group instructed all ships under its ownership not to dock in Iranian ports last year, sources close to the family said Wednesday.

This is the first indication of such instructions from the Ofer family, serving as an indirect implication that ships in their possession have in fact docked in Iranian ports before.

The Ofers were recently named in a U.S. State Department report for commercial dealings with Iranian shipping interests.

The sources said the instruction not to dock in Iran was issued by Sami Ofer, the owner of the group's fleet through two companies he owns - Tanker Pacific, which has been registered in Singapore for the past 20 years and directly operates oil tankers, and Zodiac Maritime Agencies, which owns ships carrying merchandise and rents boats to companies all over the world.

The Ofer Bros. first issued the instruction in April 2010, forbidding their ships to transport refined fuel to Iran, following the American administration's decision to forbid it.

In November 2010 the group issued an instruction to stop transporting crude oil to Iran as well, although neither the UN's Security Council nor the American administration forbade it.

The United States does not prohibit transporting crude oil from Iran, for fear it would lead to supply shortages and jack up oil prices.

Sources close to the Ofer family said the instruction applied to Zodiac ships that were hired to other companies as well.

The decision was made due to "the sensitivity and international attitude" toward Iran although there is no legal problem, they said.

Yesterday, after a Channel 10 report on the issue, representatives of the Ofer family contacted the Taiwanese company that rents the ship Kau-Shiong from Zodiac, to find out why its registered destination was the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, on the Persian coast.

The Taiwanese company said it was a registration error, and its destination was another Persian Gulf port. The sources said the issue is being looked into.

A company spokesman said "the ship did not and will not dock at Bandar Abbas port."

He said the ship was heading toward a port in one of the Emirates.

Speaking at a conference to commemorate Palmah officer and Exodus commander Yossi Harel at Tel Aviv University, former Mossad head Meir Dagan clarified statements made on Monday, that the affair over allegations that Ofer Bros. ships docked in Iran was "exaggerated."

"I'm not defending the Ofer family and they don't need my protection, but not everyone is familiar with the law," he said. "There's a question if they broke the law by transporting goods to Iran. That is not a breach of the international sanctions. There is no boycott on Iran."

Dagan said sanctions against the Ofers could have wide-reaching effects.

"Many Israeli families are employed by the Ofer family," he said. "I wouldn't want the thousands of bread-winners not to be able to do so. You don't have to look for absolute justice, in addition to other matters I won't speak of." Dagan did not elaborate.

Dagan also said his comments from Monday were in reference to the media's excessive occupation with the affair.

Nahum Manbar, who is serving a 16-year sentence on charges of espionage and treason for trading with Iran, yesterday spoke about the issue for the first time, lashing out at disproportianate treatment enjoyed by the Ofers.

Manbar was convicted of selling Iran chemicals an Israeli court said were intended to produce chemical weapons.

"The establishment took revenge on me while they, the Ofer Brothers, have connections in government and nobody's touching them," Manbar said in a conversation with his attorney Avi Richtman.

Manbar, who has 20 months left to serve, said "I don't want the Ofer brothers to serve time in prison, but I don't understand why and how I was convicted for trading with Iran - with which I traded [with the authorities' permission] while there was no law forbidding it at all. Meanwhile when it comes to the Ofer brothers they're deliberating whether to even investigate them. Obviously there's discrimination here," he said.