Meet the Organization Naming and Shaming Iran's International Business Allies

As sanctions cripple Iran, UANI is keeping tabs on country's financial enablers

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani / Getty Images
December 16, 2019

When international companies seek to do business with Iran, one organization is standing ready to name and shame them.

United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), a U.S.-based advocacy organization, has been quietly waging a campaign to infiltrate business expos held in Iran and tell the world which companies continue to do business with Tehran at a time when the Trump administration is crippling the country's economy with sanctions.

UANI's efforts have borne fruit. In the last several years, dozens of companies have pulled out of Iranian business fairs and declined to continue doing commerce with Tehran out of fear their ties to the leading state sponsor of terrorism will be made public. The group has successfully petitioned Bermuda-based PartnerRe, an insurance group; the Santander Group, a multinational bank based in Spain; South Korea's Daelim Industrial Co., Ltd., a major petrochemical company; the Yang Ming Marine Transport Corp., a shipping firm based in Taiwan; and CMA CGM Group, a French shipping container corporation.

The advocacy group's efforts have helped deny the Iranian regime potentially millions in cash windfalls and bolstered the Trump administration's tough sanctions regime. The most recent estimates from senior U.S. officials indicate Iran has access to just $10 billion in foreign currency, a drastic drop from the tens of billions freed up under the Obama administration's landmark nuclear deal.

UANI's efforts on the business front, which are unique for a non-proliferation group, have been chilling. It has accomplished this by doing what no other advocacy group has endeavored to in recent years: sending covert operatives into Iran and Europe to penetrate the Islamic Republic's often secretive business fairs. These agents have been able to track companies still willing to work covertly with the rogue regime.

In 2018, for instance, some 600 foreign companies from 38 countries registered to participate in the Iran Oil Show, the regime's premier energy fair. UANI was able to surveil the confab in person and collect information on the participating companies, including photographs and other evidence, according to internal UANI documents and other information viewed by the Washington Free Beacon. The group has used this intelligence to petition nearly all of the companies involved, warning them of the risks of engaging with Tehran.

By the time the 2019 Iran Oil Show rolled around in May, just 44 companies were scheduled to appear, a decline from the previous year of around 90 percent. UANI is continuing to hold the companies that attended accountable through full-page newspaper ads and letters to company leaders warning them that their engagement with Iran would be put in the spotlight.

UANI further determined using intelligence operatives on the ground that an additional number of companies attended the 2019 expo, though their participation was not initially made public.

This includes companies mainly based in Europe, including the German company Siemens, the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber, and numerous other companies from the Netherlands, Russia, and France.

UANI has had similar success across Europe.

From 2014 to 2017, UANI penned scores of letters and undertook research initiatives to determine the identities of all the companies participating in Iranian business fairs across Europe, including in London, Geneva, and Zurich. Companies that participated also received letters from UANI warning them their work with Tehran would be exposed. The group also dispatched senior officials to attend these forums and rebut Iran's propaganda in person.

The result: The 2018 and 2019 Europe-Iran Forums were effectively canceled due to lack of participation.

The group achieved a similar outcome with IMAG, a German trade fair organizer that had helped arrange multiple events for Iran. In January, UANI identified IMAG's role in bolstering Iranian business events and petitioned U.S. ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell to take action. UANI's efforts sparked an investigation by the American government and drew international headlines.

UFI, a French tradeshow association, received a letter from UANI in August, prompting it to cut ties with several Iranian entities.

"Until we received your letter via email, we were not aware of the fact that affiliating Iranian entities as members of our French-based organization could mean infringing on U.S. regulations," UFI informed UANI earlier this year. "Therefore, there are currently no Iranian UFI Approved Events."

Similarly, UANI petitioned Equinor ASA, a Norwegian energy company that attended an Iranian petrochemical event in Tehran. UANI petitioned the group in April, which resulted in Equinor revoking its participation and acknowledging that it did not want to be seen as legitimizing Iran's petroleum industry, which is highly sanctioned.

The letters UANI sends contain a surprising amount of information about each company's engagement with Iran.

One June 28 missive from UANI to the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber sought to determine why the organization was obfuscating its participation in the most recent Iran Oil Show held in May. This type of letter is part of UANI's successful campaign to name and shame Iran's financial enablers.

"On behalf of United Against Nuclear Iran ('UANI') I am writing to seek your clarification regarding the policy of the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber ("Advantage Austria") vis-à-vis Iran," stated the letter, sent by UANI CEO Mark Wallace. "Although not advertised as attending the 24th Iran Oil Show that took place on May 1-4, 2019, we note that Advantage Austria was nonetheless listed on the 'Final Exhibitors List.' Please explain why Advantage Austria was included in the non-public 'Final Exhibitors List'—but not included in the online publicly available list."

The letter included photographic evidence of the Austrian chamber being featured on an official list of participants.

"We suspect that Advantage Austria did not wish its name to be associated with the 2019 Iran Oil Show, but we would of course appreciate your confirmation. Please also explain why Advantage Austria decided to attend the Iran Oil Show 2019," the letter continued. "As you may know, the Iran Oil Show is populated and managed by a host of Iranian sanction-designated entities, in most instances now subject to even more onerous sanctions than previously."

The letters make clear demands for the companies to end their business dealings with Tehran or face public exposure.

"To be clear, UANI will not cease to shine the public light of scrutiny on companies that continue to do business or seek to do business in or with Iran, the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism, especially in sanctioned sectors that form the lifeblood of the regime," the letter stated, echoing the language used in many other letters sent by the group and viewed by the Free Beacon. "Given the seriousness of these issues, please let us hear from you within 10 days of receiving this letter. I look forward to your response."

UANI has sent more than 1,000 similar letters to companies, sponsors, speakers, and organizers who have participated in Tehran's business fairs in recent years.

The organization says it will not back down in its fight to isolate the Iranian regime.

"UANI's network is global and will continue to push new boundaries to deny the Iranian regime the financial support and legitimacy it craves from abroad. Businesses supporting Iran cannot hide," Joshua Silberberg, a spokesman for the group told the Free Beacon. "They will be exposed, sooner or later, and will have to answer why they are helping to prop up the world's leading state sponsor of terror."

Published under: Iran