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U.S. sanctions front companies raising money for Iran's Revolutionary Guards

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By Lesley Wroughton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Tuesday imposed fresh sanctions on a network of companies and people in Iran, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates it said was raising billions of dollars and euros to fund operations of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards.

The U.S. Treasury blacklisted 25 people and organizations, including four front companies based in the three countries, that were working on behalf of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and Iran’s Ministry of Defense.

The targeted institutions include banks and other financial institutions such as Ansar Bank, Atlas Exchange, Iranian Atlas Company, the U.S. Treasury said in a statement.

“We are exposing an extensive sanctions evasion network that was established by the Iranian regime to evade American sanctions,” U.S. special envoy for Iran Brian Hook told reporters. “With this action today we are increasing our pressure even further on the Iranian regime.”

Hook described Ansar as “the banker” of the Revolutionary Guard and its overseas operations run by Quds Force. He said the bank paid the salaries of IRGC-Quds Force employees and Iranian foreign fighters in Syria.

“They created front companies to access the U.S. financial system on their own,” said Hook, adding that Tehran was feeling the pressure from U.S. sanctions and created the network to look for a way around the restrictions.

He said the Ansar front companies had raised $800 million over the last year and a half to buy military vehicles and to fund the IRGC’s and Quds Force operations.

Additionally, Hook said the United States was also labelling Iran’s Ministry of Defense as a foreign terrorist organization because of its role in supporting terrorist activities. The ministry was blacklisted in 2007 for its role in weapons of mass destruction proliferation, he added.

“We are now expanding our authorities against Iran’s ministry of defence for its support for terrorism,” Hook told reporters at the State Department.

The sanctions are part of a campaign by Washington to pressure Tehran to negotiate a comprehensive plan to end its nuclear and missile programs.

U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from a 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and six world powers, although Britain, Germany, France, Russia and China have refused to withdraw from the agreement.

Since abandoning the nuclear deal, the United States has imposed a string of new sanctions aimed at choking off Iran’s funding, especially from oil.

The IRGC is by far Iran’s most powerful security organization and has control over large stakes in Iran’s economy and huge influence in its political system.

(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton and Susan Heavey; Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli and James Dalgleish)

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