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U.S. Investigates Major Oil Trader For Breaching Sanctions On Russia

The U.S. Justice Department is investigating whether Murtaza Lakhani, founder and CEO at oil trader Mercantile & Maritime Group, traded Russian oil in violation of the G7 price cap and Western sanctions against Russia, The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday, quoting sources with knowledge of the matter.

Under the sanctions enforced by the U.S., the EU, Australia, the UK, and other Western allies, Russian crude should be traded at $60 per barrel or less if the crude shipments to third countries are to use Western insurance and financing.  

Mercantile & Maritime, an independent commodities trading company headquartered in Singapore, provides services in the oil and gas trading sector including paper trading and hedging, physical products trading, shipping, financial services, and storage terminals and bunkering.

According to the Journal’s sources, Mercantile & Maritime’s founder Lakhani is being investigated by the U.S. Justice Department if he has a business relationship with Igor Sechin, the CEO of Russian state oil giant Rosneft, who is a sanctioned individual in the U.S.

In July, a spokesman for Lakhani told WSJ that the businessman and every company in which he has an interest were no longer involved in Russian oil trades. 

The sanctions and the G7 price cap were intended to reduce Putin’s revenues from oil while still keeping crude and products out of Russia flowing to the international market. Russia’s top crude oil customers are now China and India, where most of Moscow’s oil goes after the Western embargo came into effect at the end of 2022. 

Recently, Russia has seen an uptick in revenues, thanks to rising oil prices and narrowed discounts of its crude grades compared to the international benchmarks.

Russia’s oil and gas revenues increased by 15% from August to $7.4 billion (739.9 billion Russian rubles) in September, finance ministry data showed earlier this month. Rising oil prices in September led to higher budget proceeds from the so-called mineral extraction tax. The average price of Russia’s flagship crude grade, Urals, averaged $83.08 per barrel in September, higher than the average of $68.25 a barrel in September 2022, the finance ministry said earlier this month. 

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By Charles Kennedy for Oilprice.com

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