Israeli government distances itself from sanctions busters

By Eric Watkins
The government of Israel has made efforts to distance itself from Ofer Bros. Group, one of the country's largest private conglomerates, after learning the firm violated US sanctions against Iran.

"The recent American decision relates to a private company and the private company has to deal with it directly with American authorities," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor.

The Ofer Bros. Group, one of several companies to be hit with US sanctions for trade with Iran, earlier said it had “never sold ships to Iran” and claimed support for its position from the Israeli government.

"It's definitely awkward to find an Israeli company blacklisted like this," said another government official familiar with the matter.

The awkwardness was underlined by Yossi Melman, a columnist for Israel’s Haaretz newspaper who said Israel's government had long failed to enforce its own laws restricting Israelis from engaging in commerce and investment with firms doing business with Iran.

"Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who endlessly preaches the need for firm action against Iran to prevent it from acquiring nuclear arms, is not lifting a finger to stop Israeli companies and individuals indirectly trading with Iran," Melman wrote.

US officials last week said that Singapore-based Tanker Pacific, which is owned by Ofer, sold the tanker MT Raffles Park for $8.65 million in September to a front company that then sold it to Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines.

US officials said Ofer failed to exercise due diligence and did not heed publicly available and easily obtainable information that would have indicated that they were dealing with an Iranian company.

Tanker Pacific issued a statement saying it considers the announcement by the US State Department to be “a harsh assessment” of its due diligence process.

The firm said that the searches and enquiries it made at the time of the transaction were “appropriate” and that they gave “no indication that the vessel would ultimately fall into Iranian hands.”

Tanker Pacific Management said it has retained counsel in Washington and is engaging with US government authorities “with the hope of clarifying this matter quickly.”

As a result of the US action, Ofer and Tanker Pacific are barred from securing financing from the US Export-Import Bank, from obtaining loans of more than $10 million from US financial institutions and from receiving US export licenses.

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