The US government in August seized 1.1 million barrels of fuel from four Iranian tankers that were en route to Venezuela. The fuel has since been sold, and officials say the proceeds will go to a special fund for victims of state-sponsored terrorism.

This undated file photo obtained on August 14, 2020 and released by the US Department of Justice, shows the Bella oil tanker.
This undated file photo obtained on August 14, 2020 and released by the US Department of Justice, shows the Bella oil tanker. (AFP)

The Trump administration plans to use proceeds from the sale of fuel confiscated from Iranian tankers to benefit victims of terrorism, officials have announced.

The US government in August seized 1.1 million barrels of fuel from four Iranian tankers that were en route to Venezuela. The fuel has since been sold, and officials say the proceeds will go to a special fund for victims of state-sponsored terrorism.

The money "will now go to a far better use than either regime, Iran or Venezuela, could have envisioned because it will provide relief for victims of terrorism rather than the perpetrators of such acts," said Elliott Abrams, the State Department's special representative for Iran and Venezuela.

“So that is both poetic and tangible justice,” he added.

The US estimates that it will be able to recoup some $40 million from the sale, and a “great portion” of that sum will be directed to the terrorism fund, said Michael Sherwin, acting US attorney for the District of Columbia.

A separate forfeiture complaint from the Justice Department centres on Iranian guided missile parts that the US Navy seized over the last year from flagless vessels in the Arabian Sea. 

READ MORE: US seizes four Iranian fuel tankers bound to Venezuela

Cargo intended to militants

Officials say the cargo was intended for militant groups in Yemen. The US has consistently accused Iran of illegally smuggling arms to Houthi rebels battling the Yemeni government

In addition to the forfeiture complaints, the administration also announced sanctions against multiple entities tied to the petroleum industry in Iran.

The Trump administration has had a decidedly contentious relationship with Iran, announcing last month that it had restored all United Nations sanctions that had been eased under the 2015 nuclear deal. Last week, officials accused Iran of election interference through the distribution of threatening emails to Democratic voters in multiple states.

“With these seizure actions, we are expanding our toolbox to combat Iran’s bad behaviour,” said Assistant Attorney General John Demers, the Justice Department's top national security official.

The unsealing of the complaints was “divorced from politics,” Sherwin said, noting that the actions began months ago and took time to wind through the courts.

READ MORE: Iran says UN arms embargo expires, despite US objections

Trump's policies on Iran, Venezuela

Venezuela has the world's largest oil reserves but its economy and infrastructure have collapsed to the point that it suffers blackouts and needs help from Iran, which it pays in gold.

President Donald Trump has been seeking to weaken Iran regionally and to remove Venezuela's leftist leader Nicolas Maduro, who shows little sign of leaving soon.

Days before an election in which Trump faces Democrat Joe Biden, who favours diplomacy with Iran, the administration has been ramping up pressure further.

On Thursday, the Treasury Department announced sanctions against eight entities based in Iran, China and Singapore for exporting petrochemical products.

Trump in 2018 walked away from a deal brokered by former president Barack Obama under which Iran scaled back its nuclear program drastically in return for sanctions relief.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies