How Amazon Engages in Sanctioned Trade With Iran

Retail giant facilitates sale of computer hardware to subsidiary of Iranian government, documents show

Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi and Amazon executive chairman Jeff Bezos / Getty Images
June 9, 2022

Retail giant Amazon is reportedly busting U.S. sanctions on Iran by facilitating the sale of computer hardware to a foreign subsidiary controlled by the Iranian government and tied to the country’s terrorism enterprise, according to documents posted this week by WikiIran.

Amazon allowed a Turkish subsidiary of Iran’s Petrochemical Commercial Company, which is sanctioned by the United States, to purchase materials from an American supplier, according to leaked Iranian government documents. The United States has since 2010 sanctioned that company, which provides services to Tehran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the country’s paramilitary fighting force, a designated foreign terrorist organization.

This is not the first time Amazon has been caught violating U.S. sanctions on Iran. The online retail giant paid the U.S. government $134,523 in 2020 as part of a settlement for violating sanctions on Iran, Syria, and Crimea. Amazon said in government filings it may be civilly liable "for apparent violations of multiple [U.S.] sanctions programs" administered by the Treasury Department. This included providing "goods and services" to sanctioned Iranian entities. The sanctions violations were of particular interest to the U.S. foreign policy community due to Amazon’s standing as a government contractor that performs work worth tens of billions of dollars.

The latest information on Amazon’s potential sanctions violations was posted by WikiIran, a web portal that leaks internal Iranian government documents. The "original confidential documents" published by the site purport to show "how major Iranian petrochemical companies circumvent sanctions in order to fund Iran's Ministry of Defense [and the] IRGC's Quds Force."

The government documents center on Iran’s Petrochemical Commercial Company and an alleged network of shell firms that help it evade U.S. and international sanctions. The trade facilitated by Amazon is disclosed in one of the documents obtained by the site. The Washington Free Beacon could not independently verify the authenticity of the government documents.

The information indicates that Amazon facilitated purchases, primarily of computer hardware, from an American company that ultimately went to the petrochemical company via a Turkish subsidiary controlled by Tehran.

United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), a watchdog group that tracks violations of U.S. sanctions on Iran, said the government documents corroborate its own research about "the ease with which Amazon is used to evade U.S. sanctions." The organization has documented how Amazon is "complicit in allowing products available for sale on its marketplace to flow into Iran for years."

In 2020, for instance, UANI informed Amazon officials that several Iranian websites were promoting their ability to get Amazon goods into Iran by having them first delivered to an address in the United States. "One of the more egregious perpetrators, Iranicard, features the Amazon logo prominently and extensively on its website, including the landing page," UANI reported at the time.

Amazon has not responded to the organization’s alerts about these potential sanctions violations. Amazon also did not respond to a Free Beacon request for comment.

Daniel Roth, UANI’s research director, said Amazon has the ability to police these sales but has turned "a blind eye."

"Amazon undoubtedly has the capability and resources to ensure its platform is protected from being hijacked by bad actors attempting to subvert sanctions, and it has a clear responsibility to do so," Roth said in a statement. "By turning a blind eye and allowing these transactions to occur, they are helping to strengthen sanctioned Iranian entities to the detriment of the U.S. government’s efforts to hold Iran accountable, all while profiting from the illicit sales. Amazon can and should take responsibility and control of its platform to ensure these activities by Iranian firms do not continue."