BERLIN/DUSSELDORF – Leading US congressmen are urging the the US Treasury
Department to consider sanctions against the world’s third-largest container
shipping company – France’s CMA CGM – for possible violations of sanctions on
Iran that entail significant instances of weapons smuggling, according to
letters obtained by The Jerusalem Post.
In March, the CMA CGMoperated
container ship MV Victoria was seized by the Israel Navy in the Mediterranean
and escorted to Ashdod Port. More than 50 tons of weapons from Iran were aboard.
They included anti-ship missiles, 3,000 mortar shells and almost 70,000 rounds
of ammunition for machine guns.
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’s route took it from
Latakia, Syria, through the port of Mersin in Turkey to Alexandria, Egypt,
Israeli Ambassador to the UN Meron Reuben said. According to Israeli security
officials, the weapons were destined for Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
not the first time CMA CGM has reportedly been involved in controversial trade
In December, Rep. Peter King (R-New York) wrote to Philippe
Soulié, CEO of the shipping company. King said he was “deeply concerned” about
the French firm’s trade relationship with the regime in Iran. King is chairman
of the House Homeland Security Committee.
A few weeks earlier, the
company’s MV Everest container ship was seized off the Nigerian coast, fully
loaded with Iranian weapons. King warned the shipping company against
half-heartedly monitoring its freight in light of international
In a letter made available to the Post
, he said the shipper
should expect “severe penalties” in the United States.
Soulié wrote in
response that the MV Everest had been chartered by a company that did not appear
on the US Treasury’s sanctions list.
Soulié assured King that the company
was fully aware of the UN, US and EU sanctions. He insisted that CMA CGM was at
the “forefront of shipping companies” in adherence to laws and regulations,
especially in regard to the Iranian regime.
However, barely three months
later, the MV Victoria
became the next French ship to be seized with Iranian
“The group is working closely with the responsible
authorities in the fight against illegal transports,” CMA CGM wrote in a
statement to the Post
“CMA CGM was, like other important world-wide
shipping companies, a victim of false transport documentation from the sender,
and with help of the consignor, CMA CGM was misled about the true nature of the
In an April letter obtained by the Post
, Rep. Mike
Conaway (R-Texas) wrote to the US Treasury and State departments that the
“repeated failures” of the shipping company to adhere to international
guidelines demanded an American response. He called for the Treasury to hit CMA
CGM hard: It would not be allowed to sail to any Iranian port; otherwise it
would face US sanctions.
Moreover, it would have to ratchet up the
inspection of its business partners and cargo loads.
CMA CGM’s North
American headquarters is in Norfolk, Virginia.
According to its website,
the firm is one of the top 10 maritime cargo companies in the United States and
has “double- digit yearly growth.”
In recent years, several other
shipping companies headquartered in Europe have stood out as enablers of Iran’s
weapons trafficking, with Hamburg serving as the European hub, according to
German, Israeli and American security experts.
From there, Iran’s state
shipping company IRISL was able to do business freely for years.
2009, when the German freighter MV Hansa India
from the Leonhardt & Blumberg
shipping company was caught supplying weapons to Hezbollah did Berlin
tentatively intervene. From then on, business with IRISL was subject to stricter
monitoring, security experts said.
Both the MV Everest
and the MV
are owned by German shipping companies and leased by French shippers.
Iran tries to “procure across a broad front,” said Paul Warmers, president of
Germany’s Customs Criminal Investigation Office. The number of violations
of Germany’s War Weapons Control Act and Foreign Trade Act has risen
continuously; in the past year alone there were 110, Warmers said.
the measures had little effect, according to security experts. The Iranians
avoided monitoring through a network of more than a dozen dummy corporations
that continued the parent company’s business.
It was the Americans who
first became aware of these questionable transactions. In September, the US
Treasury placed the companies, all of them based in Hamburg’s upscale Uhlenhorst
district, on the sanctions list.
The Hamburg state prosecutor’s office
has been investigating “unidentified employees” of IRISL in the MV Hansa India
case since 2009, but no investigation has been initiated so far against IRISL’s
subsidiaries, according to a representative of the prosecutor’s office. Still,
with the new round of EU sanctions, the finances of the IRISL dummy companies
will be frozen, the EU said.
The State of Israel filed a complaint with the UN Security Council sanctions
committee because of the MV Victoria case.
In a March letter obtained by
the Post, Ambassador Reuben wrote to the president of the Security Council that
Iran’s attempt via Syria to transfer weapons to the Gaza Strip constituted a
“blatant violation of several United Nations Security Council resolutions.”
Reuben called for “firm action” against Iran and Syria.
Israel and New York told the Post that not only were the Iranians involved in
the MV Victoria weapons smuggling affair, but also the regime of Syrian
President Bashar Assad. The content of the UN report looking into the MV
Victoria affair has not been made public.
According to diplomats in
Israel and at the UN, Russia is going to great lengths to block the publication
of the report.