Australian-owned firm on verge of facing US sanctions for dealing with Iran

An Australian-owned multinational company is found “guilty” of handling a mysterious $15m shipment from Iran that threatens to breach strict US sanctions.

Shipping records and official documents reveal the movement of a significant haul of urea fertilizer out of Iran last month, via the Middle East and all the way to China. The shipment was then reloaded onto a cargo ship being used by Quantum Fertiliser, a Hong Kong-based trading partner of the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) -listed multinational Incitec Pivot Limited.

The company claimed it was “misled about the origin of the product” and was urgently offloading the suspected cargo while considering an open-minded review to “remove the risk of a repeat of this situation”.

Strict US sanctions prohibiting business dealings with Iran, including non-US entities, were revised last year, after President Trump Administration’s renouncement of the Iran nuclear treaty.

The plausible sanctions have triggered fears over even the most negligible business interactions with Iran. Last month, two vessels carrying Iranian fertilizer to Brazil were left stranded for a month because the state-owned oil company Petrobras refused to refuel them for the return journey, fearing US sanctions.

Internal documents reveal Quantum’s acknowledgment about the goods it was loading and just came from a cargo vessel named the CS Future.

The vessel arrived in China, on 25 July, via Oman, and began unloading its cargo, valued at around $10 to $15 million. The haul was then reloaded onto a second cargo vessel, the Bulk Aquila.

An email sent to Quantum employees that detailed the process, stated, “As per the agent, all the cargo for the subject vessel is from another ship MV CS Future (she is also at Lianyungang discharging at the moment, up to the morning 12000MT were unloaded). In order to speed up the cargo transit process (from MV CS Future to MV Bulk Aquila), kindly ask your supplier to ensure a continuous and sufficient truck flow, also deploy enough shore cranes for loading.”

Quantum Document

Quantum claimed it was assured by its Chinese supplier that it was buying products of Chinese originIt had since rejected the cargo and alerted authorities.

“Quantum was supplied with formal documentation which purported to verify the source of these products, but on checking this documentation Quantum was not satisfied as to the origin of this product,” a spokesman said.

“Quantum took immediate action to reject the product and require that it be offloaded, and replaced with Chinese product. Quantum was misled about the origin of the product,” he added.

According to the spokesman’s narrative, Quantum began to question the origin of the cargo while it was being loaded in Lianyungang.

Quantum record

The movement of urea fertilizer between Iran and China is common. But the threat sanctions have put international companies in doubt.

Amin Saikal, the director of the Australian National University’s Center for Arab and Islamic studies, said the US sanctions were far-reaching and “prohibit any foreign company to do business with Iran”.

“If a company trades with Iran, it would be liable to the American penalty, especially if that company also has business dealings with the United States,” Saikal said.

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