A Dubai-based food group is on a new list of companies the United States has identified for allegedly violating sanctions against Iran as it broadened its targets to include the petrochemicals sector for the first time.
Niksima Food and Beverage JLT, based in Jumeirah Lakes Towers, drew the censure for receiving payments on behalf of Jam Petrochemical Company, a manufacturer and seller of petrochemicals based in Iran, according to the US state department.
The treasury department also announced it had identified eight other Iranian petrochemical companies as owned or controlled by the government in Tehran.
"These actions underscore US resolve to cut off funds from the Iranian petrochemical sector as the second-largest revenue source for Iran's illicit nuclear programme," Jen Psaki, a spokeswoman at the department of state, said in Washington on Friday.
Iran is under US and European Union sanctions intended to halt its nuclear programme, which they say is aimed at producing atomic weapons, while the government in Tehran says the project is for civilian purposes.
Niksima is a part of Arcology Investments Group, which lists frozen yoghurt and property management among its interests. Arcology and its subsidiaries own and manage at least 30 residential and commercial units in Palm Jumeirah, Sky Gardens DIFC, Mazaya Business Avenue JLT and Emirates Crown Marina.
Niksima, which was formed in 2010, is the master franchiser of a Canadian frozen yoghurt company for the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman.
Calls and emails to the offices of Niksima Food and Beverages JLT went unanswered yesterday.
Additionally, Kyrgyzstan's Kyrgyz Trans Avia, Ukraine's Ukrainian-Mediterranean Air, known as Um Air, and Sirjanco Trading of the UAE were all cited for allegedly helping Iran's Mahan Air and Iran Air acquire aircraft that moved people and illicit cargo, according to a US treasury statement.
"We are committed to intensifying the pressure against Iran, not only by adopting new sanctions, but also by actively enforcing our sanctions and preventing sanctions evasion," said David Cohen, the treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.
Last month, the UAE's Al Hilal Exchange and Al Fida International General Trading were sanctioned by the treasury for "providing financial services to previously designated Iranian banks".
Since last year, the US has brandished sanctions against anyone who buys Iran's oil. In its latest move, it punished Ferland, which is based in Cyprus and Ukraine, for allegedly assisting the Iranian National Tanker Company.
However, on Friday, Iran's oil minister said that while the country's crude exports had fallen by about 20 per cent, most of the volumes have been replaced by international sales of refined products.
"Part of our oil exports have been transformed into oil products," said Rostam Qasemi. "There are many customers for oil products. We used to import gasoline and now we are exporters."
Even as the US tightened its sanctions against companies dealing with the Iranian petrochemicals sector, India has asked for fresh waivers on doing business with Tehran for reducing crude oil imports.
Along with China and Japan, India slashed its crude imports from Iran over the past two years. New Delhi has maintained that while it abides by UN sanctions, it does not recognise unilateral sanctions imposed by a third country.
Crude oil shipments to India from Iran fell 26.5 per cent in the financial year ending March 31. Iran is the sixth-largest oil exporter to India, which imported goods worth $11 billion last year from Tehran.
"Though India reduced oil imports from Iran, it is trying to expand trade in other commodities like tea, pharma, automobile, electronics, spare parts and agricultural products," said Meena Singh Roy, a researcher at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses in New Delhi, in a report last month.
And media reports claimed earlier this month that Iran offered insurance for Indian refiners in efforts to boost its crude sales.
China, another major importer of Iranian crude, is bartering the product with Chinese goods, such as vehicles, according to reports.
There is little evidence that the sanctions have slowed the nuclear programme ahead of a presidential election in Iran scheduled for this month. In a live televised debate between presidential candidates on Friday, the economy emerged as a key issue amid unemployment, a sliding currency and higher inflation.
"The growing range of sanctions is certainly a concern in terms of dampening commercial relations between Iran and foreign companies, but like in the past it also fosters and expedites a greater development of domestic alternatives. So it creates an opportunity for Iranians to fill the gaps themselves, in which case the domestic market becomes increasingly self-reliant," says Amir-Esmaeil Bozorgzadeh, the managing partner at Conovi, a consumer market research platform for Iran, based in Dubai. he is Iranian Canadian.
* with agencies