US        -         The United States Justice Department said on Tuesday it had charged five people in Texas and New York with conspiring to violate a law on international commerce by arranging to buy sanctioned Iranian oil and sell it to a refinery in China.

The defendants include Daniel Ray Lane, president of privately held STACK Royalties, LLC a Texas-based company that sells oil and gas mineral rights to investment funds and private equity groups.

The Justice Department charged the defendants with one count of conspiracy and another for violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, based on allegations that from July 2019 to February 2020, they conspired to arrange for the purchase of oil from Iran for sale to an unnamed Chinese refinery. The charges also allege violations of US economic sanctions on Iran.

The five suspects, in addition to Lane, are Nicholas Haven of New York and Robert Thwaites, Nicholas Fuchs and Zhenyu Wang, also known as Bill Wang, of Texas.

Lane offered to further the conspiracy by laundering money through STACK Royalties, the Justice Department said. STACK did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

China is the world’s only significant importer of Iranian oil despite sanctions US President Donald Trump unilaterally reimposed on Tehran’s petroleum exports in 2018 after withdrawing the US from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal between Tehran and six world powers.

“With the goal of illegally enriching themselves, the defendants conspired for over eight months to devise a scheme to violate US sanctions imposed on Iran, particularly the ban on foreign oil sales,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers.

The defendants agreed to use a Polish shell company as a straw seller of the illicit oil and planned two shipments of oil per month, according to the charges against them.

The Justice Department said Fuchs and Thwaites agreed to apply for foreign passports to set up offshore accounts that would not be reported to US authorities.

“By devising a scheme to purchase oil from Iran, conceal its origins via a refinery in China and make tremendous profits,” US Attorney McSwain for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania was quoted in a government statement as saying, “the defendants were also directly financially benefitting the nation of Iran in its quest to become a nuclear power, thus jeopardizing the safety and security of the United States and our allies.”

If convicted, the defendants each face a maximum sentence of 25 years and a fine of up to $1.25m, the department said. It was not immediately clear if the five had hired lawyers to represent them.