US targets Cape firms for Iranian sanction busting

US Treasury unveils alleged network of 37 property companies used by Iran to ‘generate investment’

Two obscure property-development companies based in Cape Town are being targeted by the US government for sanctions as part of an alleged “shadowy network” of front companies controlled by Iran’s leadership.

The US Treasury this week Tuesday unveiled an alleged network of 37 companies that are used by Iran to “generate and control massive, off-the-books (hidden from the public) investments, shielded from the view of the Iranian people and international regulators”.

On the list are two unlikely sanction-busting operations: One Vision Investments 5 and a related company, One Class Properties, both South African companies based in Cape Town and invested in a handful of property developments in the city.

These two companies “facilitate transactions through South Africa to circumvent US and international sanctions”, says the US Treasury.

Iran’s leaders also “planned to use One Class to purchase a bank and an insurance company”, the US Treasury said without elaborating.

Gholam Amouhadi, managing director of One Vision, says the American announcement is “absolute nonsense” and that he had not even been made aware of it until City Press contacted him on Thursday.

One Vision briefly caught the South African media’s attention when it was part of the Omega Consortium that attempted to draw F1 racing to Cape Town between 2004 and 2005.

One Vision offered to match a R75 million investment by local group African Renaissance Holdings to support the bid.

According to Amouhadi, One Vision was hoping to get involved in hotel developments around an F1 racing site, but the plan never took off.

At the time, local media called One Vision “part of the Iranian worldwide conglomerate Pars Oil”.

Pars Oil is another company on the American blacklist released last week.

One Vision had arrived on the scene earlier and, in 2003, was trumpeting $30 million (about R299 million at the current exchange rate) in planned investments in Cape Town and in the Eastern Cape.

The company intended getting involved in the local chemical industry, reports from the time say.

The investment even got a mention in a speech by Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who was minister of foreign affairs at the time, at an Iran-South Africa bilateral meeting.

One Vision did develop the $10 million Ashwood Centre, a mixed residential and commercial complex in the Cape Town suburb of Parklands as well as the Sunset Bay development in Big Bay.

“We are a property developer. We basically own two sets of buildings,” says Amouhadi.

According to him, One Vision is owned and run by long-term Iranian expats who have all been in South Africa for 15 to 16 years.

“They need to produce evidence to accuse people of contravening sanctions,” says Amouhadi.

“We operate under the South African Companies Act. We have nothing to hide. We are registered with the Reserve Bank and have approval for everything we do.”

Amouhadi said One Vision would be considering legal action.

The Americans assert that One Vision is a front company that “was owned” by Rey Investment Company, an Iranian multinational, but was subsequently transferred to Tosee Eqtesad Ayandehsazan Company (Teaco).

Teaco was created with the specific purpose of holding investments to disguise the actual ownership by Iran in order to evade sanctions, says the US Treasury.

Teaco is itself owned by a company called The Execution of Imam Khomeini’s Order (Eiko) which is the fulcrum of the entire alleged “labyrinth of 37 ostensibly private companies” – all overseen by and in effect owned by the Iranian government or government officials.

The “labyrinth” includes the two Capetonian companies, three German ones, one Croatian company and more than 30 “ostensibly private” Iranian entities.

Amouhadi says he has never heard of Eiko and further denies that there is any Iranian state ownership in his company.

“We are a 100% private company. We don’t do any transactions with Iran.”

The company has no overseas affiliates either, he says.

“It does make sense if it comes from the US Treasury. They are trying to create propaganda against all Iranian companies,” says Amouhadi. “They do this all over the world.”

A corporate video about One Vision, which was freely available on YouTube on Wednesday, was taken off the internet by Thursday.

The company’s defunct website does contain links to an equally defunct website for Rey Corporation.

Clayson Monyela, the spokesperson for the department of international relations and cooperation, told City Press they had “noted the announcement” by the American government.

“It is not the first time the Americans have done this,” he said, declining to comment on whether the US assertions require any action from the South African government.

South Africa does not support the American campaign against Iran and has suffered from a complete discontinuation of oil supplies from Iran since 2011.

Two of South Africa’s largest multinational companies, MTN and Sasol, have also been significantly affected by the sanctions, owing to their investments in Iran.

One Vision and One Class Properties are now subject to sanctions under US President Barack Obama’s Executive Order 13599.

This decree from February 2012 allows the US to “identify for sanctions any person who acts on behalf of the Iranian government, regardless of the type of activity”.

It has been used in the past to stop Iranian purchases of oil tankers via private agents.

US Deputy Secretary for Terrorism and ­Financial Intelligence David Cohen this week also gave Congress an update on the entire sanctions campaign to isolate the Islamic ­Republic of Iran, coinciding with the release of the list of alleged front companies.

According to him, the series of laws and so-called Executive Orders enacted since 2010 have cut Iranian oil sales to 50% of their level early last year – costing the country “$3 billion to $5 billion” a month.

The Americans calculate that their ­measures have contributed to the Iranian economy falling into a recession, with GDP shrinking by as much as 8% last year.

Iran’s government has also racked up its largest budget deficit in 14 years, Cohen told Congress.

The Iranian currency, the rial, had rapidly depreciated from 16 000 to the dollar in 2012 to 36 000 to the dollar now, he said.

To top it all, the US estimates it has helped cause Iran’s inflation rate to just to over 30%.

The US sanctions aimed at making Iran abandon its nuclear developments kicked off in 2010 with the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act, which allowed the US to “designate” Iranian banks the Americans deem to be involved with either nuclear technologies or “international terrorism”. These bank should then lose all ­access to the US financial system.

At the end of 2011, the US extended the sanction of losing access to its financial system to any bank globally that transacted with the Central Bank of Iran.

That was meant to cut off oil sales as Iran’s oil transactions go through its central bank.

To avoid economic shocks to much of the world, the US created a system of “waivers” – it would suspend the sanctions on countries buying oil, provided that they buy ­significantly less Iranian oil every year.

South Africa has received such a waiver, but it was largely meaningless as separate EU sanctions made the country abandon Iran as a supplier in any case.

The next step was the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act, which came into effect in February this year.

It puts conditions on the “waivers” oil ­buyers have received – in particular, it forces them to only trade “humanitarian” goods back to Iran.

Then there are Obama’s various Executive Orders, including the one now applied to One Vision and One Class Properties.

Recent ones extend the sanctions to any person or company selling gold or automotive components to Iran – or even financial institutions holding or trading large volumes of rial.

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