Iran accused of hitting Gulf with Yemen counterfeits, missiles
London- Iran is running a large-scale counterfeiting operation in Yemen in order to fund its covert activities, including its bid to destabilise Arab Gulf states, US Treasury officials have said.
The scheme was uncovered a few weeks after Saudi Arabia accused Tehran of providing Yemen’s Houthi rebels with ballistic missiles that can reach Riyadh. Saudi Arabia had said it intercepted a Houthi missile targeting Riyadh in early November.
The US announced that it was imposing sanctions on six Iranian men and companies for counterfeiting hundreds of millions of dollars in Yemeni currency. The network, which is allegedly linked to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its al-Quds Force, included two German-based printing and design firms.
“This scheme exposes the deep levels of deception the IRGC-Qods Force is willing to employ against companies in Europe, governments in the Gulf and the rest of the world to support its destabilising activities,” said US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on November 20.
“This counterfeiting scheme exposes the serious risks faced by anyone doing business with Iran,” he added. “The IRGC continues to obscure its involvement in Iran’s economy and hide behind the façade of legitimate businesses to perpetrate its nefarious objectives.”
Matthew Levitt, a former Treasury Department intelligence official, said Iran has long been involved in the counterfeit operations in the Middle East.
“Exposing this is kind of a two-for-one, both exposing the organisation’s terrorist activity and also exposing the nature of the criminal activity that it engages in,” he told the Voice of America.
The US sanctions coincided with a warning by the State Department advising Americans against travel to Saudi Arabia due to the risk of ballistic missile attacks by Yemen’s Houthi rebels.
“Terrorist threats persist throughout Saudi Arabia, including in major cities, such as Riyadh, Jeddah and Dhahran, and attacks can occur without warning anywhere in the country,” the State Department said.
Saudi Arabia and the US said the long-range missile launched this month, which went further into Saudi territory than previous ones, had been provided to the Yemeni rebels by Iran, a charge that Tehran denies.
“These missile systems were not present in Yemen before the conflict, and we call upon the United Nations to conduct a thorough examination of evidence that the Iranian regime is perpetuating the war in Yemen to advance its regional ambitions,” read a White House statement on November 8.
Saudi officials have also accused Lebanon’s Iran-backed movement Hezbollah of training and arming the Houthis but Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah “categorically” denied “any role” in the launching of missiles from Yemen into Saudi Arabia.
The Houthis said they fired the missile as part of their military response to the Saudi-led air strikes against them.
Saudi Arabia has been leading a coalition of states since March 2015 to support the internationally recognised government of President Abd-Rabbo Mansour Hadi against Houthi rebels, who took over the capital, Sana’a, in September 2014.
The Saudi-led coalition said it would allow aid access to go through Yemen’s Hodeidah port and United Nations flights to Sana’a airport after closing such access earlier this month, citing a bid to stop Iranian arms from entering Yemen.
“The port of Hodeidah will be reopened to receive food aid and humanitarian relief, and Sana’a airport will be open for UN flights with humanitarian relief,” a statement from the Saudi state news agency SPA said.
Save the Children welcomed the move but said it would be “nowhere near enough to avert a potential famine in Yemen.”
“Humanitarian relief only provides a small portion of the essential goods needed in Yemen. Commercial supplies are critical to feed the population and keep basic services running,” it said.
According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), “Yemen is largely dependent on imports (90–95% of its staple food) from international markets to satisfy domestic consumption, in addition to wheat – its main staple.”