U.S. Intensifies Sanctions on Iran, Drastically Increasing Blacklist

Web of shell companies owned by suspected Chinese arms dealer targeted, breaking a three-month lull in new enforcement measures.

Iran missiles
Photo released on Wednesday, March 5, 2014 by the Iranian Defense Ministry, purports to show missiles Fateh-110, top in an undisclosed location in Iran. AP

The United States stepped the enforcement of its sanctions against Iran on Tuesday, adding nine companies and two executives to blacklists for evading U.S. restrictions on Iranian weapons, oil and banking, the New York Times reported.

Eight Chinese companies, a Dubai-based company and two Dubai-based executives were targeted in a move by the Treasury, State and Justice Departments.

Li Fangwei, owner of the eight Chinese companies, is at the center of the new American efforts to curb evasions of its restrictions on Iranian interests. The U.S. government is offering $5 million for anything that would lead to the arrest or conviction of Li, who is suspected of helping Iran acquire weapons, according to the Times.

Li, also known as Karl Lee, had been previously charged in federal court over money laundering, bank fraud, and wire fraud, the government revealed alongside with Tuesday's announcement of enforcement measures against him.

Breaking a three-month period of no new significant actions against Iran, the Obama administration appears to be fending off claims that in the midst of talks over Iran's nuclear program, relations with the Islamic republic are thawing too quickly.

“These actions are intended to deter future sanctions evasion and prevent Iran from procuring sensitive technologies while we negotiate a comprehensive solution that will prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and ensures its nuclear program is exclusively peaceful,” the Treasury announcement stated.

Li allegedly used the eight Chinese companies as shells to conduct business worth millions with Iran through U.S.-based financial institutions, the Times reported. Li had supplied parts for Iranian ballistic missiles in the past.

The announcement stated that a company based out of Dubai, Al Aqili Group L.L.C., and two Dubai-based businessmen, identified as Mohamed Saeed al-Aqili of Dubai and Anwar Kamal Nizami of Pakistan have been accused of “shady and deceptive oil deals with Iran,” the Times reported.