Special Report: Iran’s cat-and-mouse game on sanctions

Here’s another REUTERS Special Report that I helped put together:

By Rachel Armstrong, Stephen Grey and Himanshu Ojha

SINGAPORE | Wed Feb 15, 2012 8:30am EST

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Just before noon on a sticky, overcast Saturday morning earlier this month a truck carrying two white containers waited at an electronic checkpoint to leave Singapore’s main port. The containers bore the bright red letters IRISL, the initials of Iran’s cargo line, which has been blacklisted by the United Nations, United States and European Union.

Anchored just off Singapore’s playground island of Sentosa that same day, the container ship Valili was also stacked high with IRISL boxes. A couple of miles to the east the Parmis, another container ship, also carried IRISL crates. Shipping movements data tracked by Reuters shows the Parmis had pulled into Singapore waters from the northern Chinese port of Tianjin early that morning.

The ships and containers are key parts in an international cat-and-mouse game, as Iran attempts to evade the trade sanctions tightening around it. Washington and European capitals want to stop or slow Iran’s nuclear program. They believe Iran Shipping Lines(IRISL), which moves nearly a third of Iran’s exports and imports and is central to the country’s trade, plays a critical role in evading sanctions designed to stop the movement of controlled weapons, missiles and nuclear technology to and from Iran.

IRISL would not comment for this story. Last June the company said in an interview that there was no evidence it had been involved in arms trafficking. Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful and that IRISL has no links with any weapons program. Tehran complained vigorously last June when the European Union followed the United States with beefed-up sanctions that banned new contracts with IRISL. A United Nations resolution forces all states to inspect IRISL’s cargo.

But many in the West hold up IRISL as exhibit A for Iran’s ability to evade sanctions because the shipping line regularly reflags its ships and changes their official owners.

An analysis of shipping data sheds new light on that deception. Using data from IHS Fairplay, a ship tracking group that uses ship registration documents from various sources, and Reuters Freight Fundamentals Database, which compiles location data from every ship’s Automatic Identification System, shows that despite the sanctions 130 of the 144 banned ships in IRISL’s fleet continue to call at many of the world’s major ports hidden behind a web of shell companies and diverse ownership.

Dozens of Iranian ships have used Singapore several hundred times in the past two years, for instance, as a stop-off on their way to other destinations such as China.

The data shows that in the 48 months before U.S. sanctions began in September 2008, IRISL made 345 changes to its fleet including names, the flags ships sailed under, operators, managers and registered owners. In the 40 months since sanctions began there have been at least 878, including 157 name changes, 94 changes of flag, 122 changes of operator, and 127 changes of registered ownership.

Continue reading Special Report: Iran’s cat-and-mouse game on sanctions

Straw wanted ‘drug-smuggling’ informant freed

March 04, 2007, Sunday Times.
Stephen Grey

JACK STRAW, the former foreign secretary, instructed diplomats to lobby for the release of a convicted criminal described by police and customs intelligence reports as a leading smuggler of heroin into Britain.
Foreign Office telegrams ordered efforts to secure “the immediate release” from a German jail in 2001 of Andreas Antoniades who worked for years as a paid informer for Customs. At the time, he was wanted in Greece on drugs smuggling charges.
Although police or customs informers routinely receive rewards in cash, or reduced sentences if they are prosecuted, Straw’s attempt to help Antoniades avoid trial appears at odds with Customs’ code of practice, which states: “Informants have no licence to commit crime.”
Antoniades, who has never been convicted of a drug offence, was released shortly after the Straw telegrams and has since moved to Dubai. Continue reading Straw wanted ‘drug-smuggling’ informant freed