Crude oil tanker
Crude oil tankerIsrael news photo: Flash 90

Lawmakers are calling on the government to launch an investigation into allegations that Singapore-based Tanker Pacific Ltd. owned by Israeli businessman Sammy Ofer, has been involved in doing business with Iran.

Last week the U.S. State Department leveled an allegation that the Ofer Brothers Group had sold an oil tanker to an Iran-based company. In addition, an Israeli financial magazine reported that seven of the firm's vessels had docked in the Islamic Republic over the past decade.

The Calcalist published a report revealing the information on Sunday, creating a firestorm among Knesset members as well as top officials, including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. The prime minister told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee the same day that he personally asked whether the firm had been given any sort of trade permit with Iran.

According to the company, however, the situation is not nearly as cut-and-dried as it might first appear, and bluntly denied having illegally traded with Iran.

A statement by Tanker Pacific Ltd. explained that “at the time in question all operations of this type were fully sanctioned under international laws and regulations legislated by the U.S., EU and U.N.”

Regardless, the company added, Tanker Pacific decided in November 2010 to halt shipments of oil and any other petroleum products to Iran.

The entire issue – and sanctions levied against the Ofer Brothers Group by the U.S. State Department – may be based on a misunderstanding, however.

Sources quoted by the Globes business news service said the company told the Ministry of Defense that that only one ship was actually involved in the controversy – an oil tanker, Raffles Park.

The company was placed on the U.S. State Department watch list for having sold the oil tanker to Republic Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL) for $8.65 million in October 2010, which renamed the vessel, “Emma.”

“The Secretary will hold companies accountable, as required by the Iran Sanctions Act, when they know or “should have known” they were providing sanctionable goods or services to Iran,” the State Department said in a statement last week. “Tanker Pacific and Ofer Brothers Group are [hereby] barred from securing financing from the Export-Import Bank of the United States, from obtaining loans over $10 million from U.S. financial institutions and from receiving U.S. export licenses.”

However, Tanker Pacific informed Israel's Ministry of Defense that the ship had been earlier been sold to a Dubai-registered company called Crystal Shipping. The Dubai firm was not – and still does not – appear on any blacklist of companies with which trade is banned by the Obama administration.

“We have never sold a tanker to Iran,” Ofer Brothers said in a statement it issued in response to the State Department announcement. “The authorized agencies of the State of Israel will confirm our statement in full.”