The Ofer Brothers Group has been removed from the United States sanctions blacklist for trade with Iran, two days after the second of the two family patriarchs, Yuli Ofer, passed away at the age of 87. His funeral was held yesterday. Yuli's brother Sammy Ofer died three months ago at age 89.
Neither of the brothers, who founded a family-owned business empire worth billions, survived to see their vindication by Washington.
"This action clears our name," Ofer Holdings Group said in a statement, adding that no other Israeli entities are now suspected of involvement in the deal. "Ofer Holdings Group had not been involved in selling the Raffles Park [oil tanker] to Iran, and in any case hadn't been the owner, did not control and did not influence Tanker Pacific or any other entity on which sanctions were imposed."
Sources near the Ofer family say the Americans accept that the Ofer Brothers Group was not directly linked with the violation. Throughout, the Ofer Brothers Group had denied wrongdoing after learning that it was under investigation for alleged violation of U.S. trading rules. The billionaire Ofer brothers had said they did not realize the buyer had been a front for an Iranian company, though they admitted the affair was embarrassing. Yet the U.S. State Department included the company in its sanctions list in May, accusing the privately-held company of involvement in the tanker sale, for $8.5 million.
Yesterday the State Department issued a note removing the Ofer Brothers Group from the list of sanctioned entities, saying it was clarifying culpability. Indeed: the State Department substituted it with other firms indirectly owned by the Ofer corporate empire, including a ship-owning company - Tanker Pacific of Singapore. Also on the list are two legal entities associated with ownership of Tanker Pacific, but they are affiliated with Ofer Shipping International, not Ofer Brothers Group as said in May. While about it, the State Department sniffed that all the companies should have known with whom they were doing business.
"Those sanctions related to TPM's role in managing the 2010 sale of the tanker Raffles Park to Coral Light Asset Corp (Panama ), an entity nominated by the buyers, Crystal Shipping FZE and Pacific Shipping of the UAE," Tanker Pacific said in a statement yesterday.
"The diligence carried out by TPM at the time of the sale included checking the U.S. Department of the Treasury's list of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons. The buyers did not appear on the list, and our inquiries uncovered no evidence that the buyers had any links to Iran. We were later informed by the U.S. government that the buyers acted as front companies for the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines," it continued. The company added that its legal counsel in Washington is working with the State Department, with the goal of being removed from the list as well.
The May sanctions list included other companies such as PCCI, the Royal Oyster Group and Speedy Ship of the United Arab Emirates, Tanker Pacific, and Associated Shipbroking of Monaco.
The sanctions barred Ofer Brothers from securing financing from the Export-Import Bank of the United States, from obtaining loans over $10 million from U.S. financial institutions and from receiving U.S. export licenses.
The Ofers control Israel Corporation, one of Israel's largest investment companies, which among other things owns the fertilizers giant Israel Chemicals.