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Four Americans Indicted for Conspiring to Illegally Sell Iranian Petroleum to a Chinese Refinery

Federal prosecutors in Pennsylvania on Wednesday indicted four American men for allegedly conspiring to purchasing Iranian petroleum to sell to a Chinese refinery as part of a scheme to subvert U.S. sanctions against Iran.

Nicholas Hovan, 34, Zhenyu Wang, 39, Robert Thwaites, 30, and Daniel Ray Lane, 39, are alleged to have devised a plan to illegally purchase the Iranian petroleum then turn around ship it to China twice per month, yielding them an expected profit of $28 million per month. Each of the men was charged with conspiracy, violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), and money laundering.

“The defendants in this case allegedly conspired to sell Iranian petroleum to a Chinese refinery in order to enrich themselves at the expense of the US Iran sanctions regime,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers.  “The defendants devised a scheme to use front companies, bribes, and false contractual documents in order to conceal their brazenly illicit activity.  We will continue to leverage all of our tools to detect and prevent individuals such as these from engaging in actions that would have harmed the national security of this nation.”

According to the indictment, which was filed in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the men conspired to purchase the petroleum from the Islamic Republic of Iran, in violation of U.S. economic sanctions imposed on Iran. The product would then allegedly be sold and shipped to a refinery in the People’s Republic of China.

Prosecutors also alleged that the men conspired to launder the profits from the illicit sales through a series of shell entities and offshore financial accounts to prevent authorities from detecting where the funds originated.

According to the Department of Justice, the defendants attempted to conceal the origin of the petroleum by, among other things, bribing an official in the Chinese government. Additionally, as part of their plan to launder the proceeds of their scheme, the men tried to obtain Antigua passports for the purpose of opening a Swiss bank accounts through which they could launder the money.

“It doesn’t get much lower than attempting to get rich by flouting the United States’ national security interests,” said U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania William M. McSwain. “The defendants here allegedly jeopardized the safety and security of the United States by scheming to get in bed with Iran and China.  This type of conspiracy deserves the full condemnation of my office and it has it.”

The defendants face a maximum possible sentence of 45 years in prison and a $1.75 million fine.

[image via Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.