U.S. sanctions businesses supporting Iranian recruitment, training of child soldiers
The United States Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) took action against a vast network of businesses providing a financial lifeline to the Basij Resistance Force (Basij), a paramilitary force subordinate to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
The new sanctions, the US Treasury said, focused on Bank Mellat and Mehr Eqtesad Bank, according to an official press release.
The US has levied grave charges against the Basij while outlining the activities of the paramilitary force subordinate of Iran's Armed Forces.
According to the statement, Basij recruits, trains, and deploys child soldiers to fight in IRGC-fueled conflicts across the region. Children, including migrants from Iran and Afghanistan, are trained as fighters for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF), and then deployed to Syria to support the Assad regime, the press release further stated.
The recruited Afghan immigrants, including children as young as 14, are made to join the Fatemiyoun Brigade, a militia made up of Afghan fighters under the control of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force in Syria.
The Iran-based network of businesses providing financial support to the Basij is known as Bonyad Taavon Basij and is comprised of at least 20 corporations and financial institutions. This network employs shell companies and other measures to mask its ownership and control over a variety of multibillion-dollar business interests in Iran's automotive, mining, metals, and banking industries, many of which have significant international dealings across the Middle East and with Europe.
The US Treasury's Secretary Steven Mnuchin was quoted as saying, "The Bonyad Taavon Basij network is a quintessential example of how the IRGC and Iranian military forces have expanded their economic involvement in major industries and infiltrated seemingly legitimate businesses to fund terrorism and other malign activities. This vast network provides a financial lifeline to the Basij's efforts to recruit, train, and indoctrinate child soldiers as young as twelve who are coerced into combat under the IRGC's direction."
The US further claimed through the statement that the IRGC and the Basij use the monies generated from this network to support terrorism along with committing a variety of human rights abuses in Iran and abroad.
Tuesday's action targets the Basij and Bonyad Taavon Basij, adding these entities to a list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists, which already includes the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force and similar groups who provide support to terrorists or acts of terrorism.
This network has known business ties with international companies around the globe. The release warned that the implications of partnering with companies associated with the Basij could contribute to the ongoing human rights abuses and terrorism they export to the region.
The U.S. Department of Treasury further urged international companies to ensure the undertaking of necessary due diligence to avoid engaging in "sanctionable activity" with entities that support the Iranian regime's "malign" activities.
US Treasury's Secretary Mnuchin emphasised, "The international community must understand that business entanglements with the Bonyad Taavon Basij network and IRGC front companies have real-world humanitarian consequences, and help fuel the Iranian regime's violent ambitions across the Middle East."
The US also claimed that Mehr Eqtesad Bank's investment firm, Mehr Eqtesad Iranian Investment Company, acts as an intermediary for the economic entrenchment of the Basij and Bonyad Taavon Basij. It further designated five other investment firms pursuant to Executive Order 13224, Tadbirgaran Atiyeh Investment Company, Negin Sahel Royal Company, Mehr Eqtesad Financial Group, and Technotar Engineering Company for being owned or controlled by Mehr Eqtesad Iranian Investment Company, and Taktar Investment Company for being owned or controlled by Technotar Engineering Company.
The American country also designated Iran's largest tractor manufacturer in the Middle East and North Africa, Iran Tractor Manufacturing Company (ITMC) under E.O. 13224 for being owned Mehr Eqtesad Iranian Investment Company and its Negin Sahel Royal Company.
Other companies like Taktar Investment Company, Iran's Zinc Mines Development Company (IZMDC), Calcimin, Bandar Abbas Zinc Production Company, Qeshm Zinc Smelting and Reduction Company, Zanjan Acid Production Company, and Parsian Catalyst were also designated under the Executive Order for being connected through a maze of owners that all lead back to Mehr Eqtesad Iranian Investment Company.
The US has also put Esfahan's Mobarakeh Steel Company on the list for "assisting, sponsoring, or providing financial, material, or technological support for, or financial or other services to or in support of, Mehr Eqtesad Iranian Investment Company."
OFAC also designated Andisheh Mehvaran Investment Company under E.O. 13224 for "being owned or controlled" by IZMDC and Parsian Bank, Sina Bank, and Bahman Group for "assisting, sponsoring, or providing financial, material, or technological support for, or financial or other services to or in support of, Andisheh Mehvaran Investment Company."
The now-imposed US sanctions were expected as it was reported that more sanctions would be imposed on Iran in November, including barring Iran's sale of crude oil and transactions with its Central Bank.