US designates Qods Force counterfeit cash operation

The US Treasury Department yesterday designated an Iranian network that has procured “advanced equipment and materials to print counterfeit Yemeni bank notes potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars” for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Qods Force. One of the four branches of the IRGC, the Qods Force is in charge of external operations. Treasury’s announcement answers an important question about at least one of force’s methods of financing its operations in Yemen.

Last year, the estimated cost of Iran’s Yemen portfolio was $25 million. Even if that amount quadrupled, it would still be a fraction of the estimated $15 billion Iran spends per year in Syria. The advanced counterfeit capability would permit Iran to sustain its operations in Yemen for years. Tehran’s bar for success is low in that war: it just has to continue supporting the Yemeni insurgency and bleed the Saudi-led coalition.

The US has sanctioned two Iranian nationals and four German and Iran-based companies. Reza Heidari, 40, used two German front companies to “deceive European suppliers, circumvent export restrictions, and acquire advanced printing machinery, security printing machinery, and raw materials” to support the Qods Force’s counterfeit capabilities. As of late 2016, he has been the managing director of Iran-based Rayan Printing. Heidari coordinated with Mahmoud Seif, in his 50s, who has been involved with the logistics of importing the material to Iran. Seif is the managing director of Tejarat Almas Mobin, the parent company of Rayan Printing. He previously ran guns for the Qods Force, according to Treasury.

The individuals and companies are designated for terrorism pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13224, as well as for acting as agents of the IRGC pursuant to the Iranian Financial Sanctions Regulation. As a result, they are added to the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List (SDN); anyone that does business with these entities is at risk of fines and being blocked from the US financial system.

The Qods Force is designated pursuant to E.O. 13224, an authority applied to the IRGC in its entirety last month.

Update: the IRGC has four branches; the earlier version had stated five.

Amir Toumaj is a Research Analyst at Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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