Iran's shipping shell game in Hong Kong...
But who will ask/tell the Chinese to shut this down???
Chalk up another black mark against Iran’s regime… as if any more were needed. To dodge U.S. sanctions imposed in 2008 on its state-owned merchant shipping company and purveyor to Iran’s missile and nuclear programs, the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines, or IRISL, Iran’s regime has been playing a global shell game. For the past three years IRISL has been camouflaging its ships by reflagging them, renaming them, and creating proliferating sets of shell companies to serve as their nominal owners, with Iran lurking behind them. Despite U.S. sanctions, ships blacklisted by the U.S. for their links to IRISL continue to ply the seas, while IRISL hides behind a morphing network of affiliates, shell companies, and related accretions.
For this activity, described by the U.S. Treasury as a web of “deceit,” Iran has favored a number of hubs, including Malta, Germany, and one of the world’s great port cities — Hong Kong. None of this activity is good, but there is something about Iran’s exploitation of Hong Kong that has been particularly appalling. Hong Kong’s great virtue is that it is a place friendly to business, a testament even today to the benefits of a free market. Say what you will about the shadowy side of China’s growing influence in Hong Kong since Britain turned over the Crown Colony in 1997 (and there is plenty to say), Hong Kong carries on as one of the marvels of the modern world, still a place of energy and enterprise.
Since 2008, Iran has battened onto Hong Kong’s system as a handy place to set up shell companies to try to disguise its connection to 19 IRISL-linked Hong Kong-flagged cargo ships, all blacklisted by the U.S. Treasury . Batches of these Hong Kong shell companies serving as nominal owners of these ships have been exposed by Treasury and added to its Iran sanctions blacklist. Last month, while in Hong Kong, I took a look at some of the documents connected with these 19 Hong Kong-flagged ships. I discovered that since Treasury’s most recent bout of related black-listings, in January, and a superb series of articles early this year on that theme in the South China Morning Post, these ships had come under new ownership by 19 new and obscure Hong Kong-registered companies — all sharing the same Hong Kong address. I went to that address, where the only physical sign of these companies consisted of rows of green file boxes, containing their corporate documents, shelved in the back room of a company that provides corporate secretarial services to a variety of clients.