Brian Hook offered captain multi-million dollar bribe in effort to seize Iranian tanker

Zarif says U.S. applying ‘outright blackmail’

September 6, 2019

TEHRAN - Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Wednesday accused the Trump administration of engaging in "outright blackmail" after the Financial Times reported a State Department official offered the captain of an Iran-owned oil tanker millions of dollars to divert the ship to a nation which would detain it on behalf of the United States.

According to FT, Brian Hook, head of the State Department's Iran Action Group, sent an email promising the captain of Iranian supertanker Grace 1 "several million dollars" to do the bidding of the Trump administration.

"This is Brian Hook... I work for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and serve as the U.S. representative for Iran," Hook wrote to Akhilesh Kumar, the Indian captain of the supertanker, according to emails viewed by FT.

"I am writing with good news," Hook said, referring to the Trump administration's multi-million dollar offer.

Hook's email, according to FT, was sent 11 days after the Gibraltar Supreme Court last month ordered the release of Grace 1, which was detained by British forces in July on orders from the U.S.

"The U.S. complains loudly that Iran engages in 'blackmail.' Yet Brian Hook is directly emailing tanker captains offering bribes to get them to bring their ships into U.S. clutches."

The Trump administration alleged the tanker was carrying oil to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions. Iran denied that charge.

In a second email to Kumar that was viewed by FT, Hook warned the captain that refusing the U.S. cash—which several observers described as a "bribe"—would carry consequences.

"With this money, you can have any life you wish and be well-off in old age," Hook wrote. "If you choose not to take this easy path, life will be much harder for you."

Kumar ultimately did not reply, FT reported, and Hook notified Kumar that the Treasury Department had sanctioned him.

News of the State Department's efforts to seize the Iranian tanker comes following months of sky-high tensions between Iran and the United States. Fears of war between the two nations have been growing rapidly since President Donald Trump violated the Iran nuclear agreement last year.

As Common Dreams reported in June, Trump approved a strike on Iran following the downing of an unmanned American surveillance drone. The president decided to call off the attack at the last minute.

In response to FT's story, Zarif, who was sanctioned by the Treasury Department in July, said the Trump administration's efforts to impose its will on Iran are beginning to fit a "pattern."

This is incredible. The US complains loudly that Iran engages in “blackmail.” Yet Brian Hook is *directly* emailing tanker captains offering bribes to get them to bring their ships into US clutches. How embarrassing. https://t.co/lT2DKkyRSQ

— Esfandyar Batmanghelidj (@yarbatman) September 4, 2019

"Having failed at piracy, the U.S. resorts to outright blackmail—deliver us Iran's oil and receive several million dollars or be sanctioned yourself," tweeted Zarif. "Sounds very similar to the Oval Office invitation I received a few weeks back."

FT reported that Hook's emails to Kumar were not "an isolated case."

According to FT, Hook in recent weeks has reached out to "roughly a dozen captains" with similar messages.

According to the Financial Times, Brian Hook in recent weeks has reached out to "roughly a dozen captains" with similar messages.