NEW YORK--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Today, United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) noted a weekend report in TradeWinds regarding Greek shipowner Victor Restis’s effort to “buy” UANI’s silence on his and EST’s Iran dealings. The report appears below:
Hall of shame
By Aaron Kelley
February 8, 2014
They say money can’t buy happiness but it turns out there are a lot of things it can buy, like a public pardon from a US advocacy group called United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI).
Well, kind of.
TradeWinds has learned that affiliates of Greek mogul Victor Restis recently agreed to make a $400,000 donation to the US non-profit under a broader effort to repair the damage caused by a name and shame campaign aimed at Enterprises Shipping & Trading (EST).
In exchange, under the terms of a tentative settlement struck late last month on the back of meetings with UANI chief executive Mark Wallace in Manhattan and Abu Dhabi the organisation planned to issue a press release stating the Greek operator and its subsidiaries:
“Have in place a comprehensive written compliance policy which strictly prohibits them from doing any business in or with the Islamic Republic of Iran or its agents and instrumentalities.”
Negotiations collapse, tensions escalate
According to documents tied to a defamation lawsuit against UANI and emails between its lawyers, Wallace and George Sarris, president of EST affiliate Golden Energy, the organisation walked away from the settlement soon after the parties agreed on the size of the tribute and other key provisions.
In a letter sent to the judge assigned to the case the non-profit’s attorneys said their client pulled the plug after finding evidence that some of the plaintiff’s vessels recently called on Iran, which led it to believe the “representations” about the compliance policy were “utterly untrue”.
In addition, had the parties proceeded with the settlement UANI claims it would have been forced to “falsely represent” that EST and its affiliates commissioned an internal audit in which investigators determined that Restis and his associates had never violated international sanctions.
The organisation told the judge that it was never allowed to see a copy of the audit and argued the probe was “intentionally limited in scope to only a one or two month period” and “did not encompass access” to Restis, his personal files, emails or computer.
“Plaintiffs attempted to induce UANI to adopt these false statements and ‘look the other way’ by offering to pay Ambassador Wallace personally, on top of the $400,000 payment to UANI, for service as a member of the board of directors of Golden Energy,” counsel added.
Back to basics
Restis filed a lawsuit against UANI in the summer of 2013 after the organisation accused him of engaging in illicit dealings with Iran during his tenure as chairman of First Business Bank (FBB) and was arrested in Greece on suspicion of embezzlement and money laundering shortly after.
The mogul landed in the spotlight yet again this week when the group released evidence that at least two EST bulkers, the 92,700-dwt Helvetia One (built 2012) and 72,300-dwt Bergen Max (ex-Bunga Saga Tiga, built 1994), had called on the Iranian port of Bandar Imam Khomeini.
“The Bandar Imam Khomeini port is host to the Iranian regime-controlled front company, Tidewater Middle East Co, which has been designated as a sanctioned entity by both the United States and European Union,” UANI said.
“Such business in Iran directly contradicts the statements of Mr. Restis, who, in response to a 2013 UANI campaign, categorically denied that his companies do, or have ever done, business in Iran," the organisation added in reference to the latest round of allegations.
Today, members of one of the many legal teams working on EST’s defamation case against UANI said they were confident that the vessels in question did not violate international sanctions since they were carrying humanitarian aid cargoes when they docked in Iran.
Legal eagles explore port puzzler
While US sanctions do not prohibit the shipping of humanitarian aid to Iran, owners can end up in hot water if the vessel used to transport the cargo calls on ports controlled by sanctioned entities like Tidewater Middle East, which operates bulk terminals at Bandar Imam Khomeini.
So says a prominent Washington, DC-based attorney who recently joined a leading US law firm’s international trade and public contracts group as a partner following a lengthy tour of duty with competitor where he specialised in sanctions.
“Even in cases where non-sanctioned cargo is being shipped carriers are still at risk of US sanctions if they call at terminals operated by Tidewater, which is specially designated for US sanctions for reported links to Iran's Republican Guard and weapons programs,” he explained.
“Even non-US shipping companies are at risk: under the US 'secondary sanctions' programs, foreign companies dealing with sanctions targets like Tidewater may be subject to sanctions themselves, including being barred from transactions with US banks and other companies.
“While no shipowner has been sanctioned yet for using Tidewater berths, many major operators have dropped Tidewater terminals from regular services in response to this US pressure, and related banking and insurance restrictions."
Another legal eagle who spoke with TradeWinds on the condition of anonymity believes it’s important to note that Tidewater Middle East is believed to be the operator of several terminals in Bandar Imam Khomeini but not the entire port.
Restis readies retort
Going forward, TradeWinds is told that the legal teams representing EST, Restis and the tycoon’s associates in the defamation case against UANI plan to counter the organisation’s most recent allegations in court in the coming days and weeks.
While Restis is scheduled to appear at a deposition in New York on Tuesday observers involved in the case note he is unlikely to show as a result of his legal troubles in Greece but claim the embattled mogul “is still very much looking forward to his day in court”.
to view the article at TradeWindsNews.com.
Click here to view UANI’s February 5, 2014 press release regarding the Bergen Max.
Click here to view UANI’s February 6, 2014 press release regarding the Helvetia One.
Click here to view statements by Mr. Restis denying any business in Iran.
Click here for news accounts of Mr. Restis’s 2013 arrest and criminal charges.