Iran sanctions scandal: Australian company offloads $15m cargo it says it was duped into carrying


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Quantum Fertiliser, part of ASX-listed Incitec Pivot, says it is reviewing its operations to avoid a recurrence

The Australian multinational at the centre of an Iran sanctions scandal has offloaded a $15m shipment of Iranian cargo it says it was duped into taking, and is reviewing its operations to avoid a repeat.

A subsidiary of ASX-listed company Incitec Pivot took hold of a cargo shipment of fertiliser from Iran late last month, potentially risking a contravention of strict United States sanctions.

The company, Quantum Fertiliser, said it was deceived by its supplier about the origin of the product, and quickly moved to offload it.

Shipping logs, internal documents and leaked video show how the cargo originated in Iran aboard a vessel known as the CS Future, before being transported to China and reloaded on to a second ship, the Bulk Aquila, which was being used by the Australian-owned company. The cargo was supposed to be sold to customers in India.

Guardian Australia first revealed the existence of the shipment a week ago. The company said it had already detected that the shipment had suspect origins while it was loading the fertiliser at a port in Lianyungang, China.

A Quantum spokesman said its supplier had offloaded the cargo at a port in Yantai, in China’s Shandong province.
The company said it had not identified any other shipments from Iran that it had taken hold of.

“We are conducting a review to ensure that we can remove the risk of a repeat occurrence,” the spokesman said.

Australian and US authorities have remained tight-lipped about the issue. The US state department has not responded to queries, and Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) issued a general statement, urging businesses to be careful of foreign sanctions.

US sanctions apply extraterritorially, including to Australian businesses, and anyone found to be dealing with Iran faces being effectively frozen out of US business.

“Australian businesses need to consider not only Australia’s sanctions regimes, but also those of other jurisdictions which may affect their operations,” a DFAT spokesman said.

“The Australian government encourages Australian businesses to examine and take legal advice on implications of re-established domestic sanctions by the United States.”
The US sanctions were resumed after Donald Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal. The move has prompted fears over seemingly innocuous interactions with Iran.

Brazil’s state-owned oil company, Petrobras, refused to refuel two vessels carrying Iranian fertiliser last month, for fear of US retribution. The decision left the two ships stranded for a month, leading to a court battle and threats from Iran of retaliation.

Quantum said it had no knowledge that the shipment was from Iran. It said it had a contract with its Chinese supplier to provide only Chinese products.

“Quantum was supplied with formal documentation which purported to verify the source of this product, but on checking this documentation Quantum was not satisfied as to the origin of this product,” a spokesman said.

“Quantum took immediate action to reject the product and require that it be offloaded, and replaced with Chinese product. Quantum was misled about the origin of the product.”

But internal documents suggest the company knew that the cargo being loaded on to its ship had just been offloaded from the CS Future.

Separate records obtained by the Guardian show the CS Future had arrived from Iran’s Bandar Abbas port on 1 July.