Bloomberg News

Iran Sentences American to Death for Spying Amid Hormuz Tensions

January 09, 2012

Jan. 9 (Bloomberg) -- Iran’s revolutionary court sentenced a former U.S. soldier of Iranian descent to death for spying amid rising tensions over concerns that Iran may try and close the Strait of Hormuz if Western sanctions are imposed.

The court found Amir Mirzaei Hekmati guilty of collaborating “with a hostile country and spying for the Central Intelligence Agency,” Iran’s state-controlled Fars news agency said, citing its reporter.

Hekmati, who was born in Arizona in 1983, said he joined the U.S. military in 2001 after completing high school, according to an earlier report by Fars. Iranian state television broadcast video images of him last month.

The sentencing comes as the European Union discusses imposing a ban on Iranian oil imports due to the country’s nuclear program when the bloc’s foreign ministers meet on Jan. 30. Iranian Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi said Dec. 27 that his nation would block oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz, a transit point for a fifth of the world’s crude, if sanctions are imposed, the Islamic Republic News Agency said.

Crude oil for February delivery rose as much as 59 cents to $102.15 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange and was at $101.66 at 9:41 a.m. London time. The contract fell 0.3 percent on Jan. 6 to $101.56, the lowest close since Dec. 30, and has risen 2.9 percent this year.

The U.K.’s Royal Navy said today it’s deploying one of its most modern destroyers, HMS Daring, to the Persian Gulf in a “long planned” and “routine” replacement of another ship.

Blocking Strait

The move is not in reaction to developments in relation to Iran, a navy spokesman, who declined to be identified in line with government policy, said in a telephone interview today, confirming a report in the Daily Telegraph newspaper.

Iran has the ability to block the Strait of Hormuz “for a period of time,” and the U.S. would take action to reopen it, U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman General Martin Dempsey said in an interview aired yesterday on the CBS “Face the Nation” program.

An Iranian blockade could disrupt world trade in goods as companies divert ships from the Persian Gulf to safer regions. Such a move could force companies including Ford Motor Co., BASF SE and Caterpillar Inc. to seek safer routes for transporting items including car parts and chemicals, John Manners-Bell, chief executive officer of Transport Intelligence Ltd., a Wiltshire, England-based logistics consultant, said Jan. 5.

‘Any Reason’

“If for any reason the strait were closed it would have a huge impact on the economy in the Middle East and would cause a systematic restructuring of flows of goods around the world,” Manners-Bell, who used to manage European marketing at United Parcel Service Inc., said by phone.

A pipeline that would allow crude oil from the United Arab Emirates to bypass the Strait of Hormuz separating it from Iran has been delayed because of construction difficulties, two people with knowledge of the matter said.

As many as 270 construction issues have pushed back the completion date, said the two people, declining to be identified because they’re not allowed to speak publicly on the matter. The $3.3 billion project won’t be ready until at least April, one of them said.

--Editors: Louis Meixler, Andrew Atkinson.

To contact the reporters on this story: Andrew J. Barden in Dubai at; Jonathan Ferziger in Tel Aviv at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at

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