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EU Intends to Reimpose Sanctions on 5 Iranian Companies

BRUSSELS—The European Union intends to reimpose sanctions on five Iranian companies, including Iran’s National Iranian Tanker Company, and one person who won court cases that struck down the restrictions placed on them, EU officials said.

The move is the latest effort to uphold the bloc’s sanctions regime against Iran and Syria after a series of legal defeats in the EU’s top courts over the last 13 months. Most of the Iran sanctions were imposed because of Tehran’s nuclear activities.

On Friday, the U.K. Treasury issued a news release saying it was lifting an asset freeze on the National Iranian Tanker Company, Sina Bank, Moallem Insurance Company, Sharif University of Technology and Sorinet Commercial Trust. It also lifted the asset freeze on Iranian businessman Babak Zanjani who was jailed in Iran earlier this year.

The Treasury said its move came after the EU failed to appeal decisions by the EU’s General Court in June and July to strike down the sanctions.

On Wednesday, an EU official said the bloc had written to five of the six sanctions targets in August and September informing them the European Council, the Brussels-based body that represents member states’ interests, intended to relist them. The person said no letter had yet been sent to National Iranian Tanker Company, or NITC.

The person said the council requested information from the four firms and one individual that it should take into account before making a final decision.

Michael Mann, a spokesman for European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, said the EU is still working on “remedial action for maintaining” NITC on the sanctions list.

Habibullah Seyedan, NITC’s commercial director, told The Wall Street Journal that if the EU relists his firm, it will challenge the decision in court again.

“But we want to talk to the EU authorities to know why they have the intention to put more sanctions on us.”

He said he was confident the company would win any new court challenge. The company is also on the U.S. sanctions list.

David Luff, a Brussels based lawyer at Appleton Luff who represents Moallem Insurance Company and other firms who have challenged sanctions, said there was “no grounds” for listing his client and said a council decision to do so would show “a lack of respect for the judiciary’s determination” in the case.

“A court ruling needs to be respected,” he said.

While all 28 EU member states must approve sanctions measures, the council enjoys significant powers once a person or entity is listed.

That includes the power to reimpose sanctions on a previously listed firm or person on new grounds. The council claims it can do this even once the sanctions have formally expired.

Last October, after a cluster of legal defeats on sanctions the previous month, the EU informed more than a dozen companies with ties to Iran that it would relist them. Many of the companies appealed the council’s decision.

The EU’s sanctions regime has run into legal trouble in part because the EU’s top courts have argued that evidence against a sanctions target must be shared with the firm or person’s lawyers. EU diplomats have said member states are reluctant to provide that evidence because much of it comes from confidential intelligence sources.

This spring, the General Court presented a proposal that would allow EU court judges to keep some of the evidence confidential in exceptional cases. That reform is still being debated by member states.

Iran is currently negotiating a nuclear deal with six major powers which could see the EU and the U.S. drop many of its sanctions over time. However the odds of a deal by the November 24 deadline remain uncertain.

In any case, the string of successful legal challenges to the bloc’s sanctions decisions have made member states more hesitant about imposing targeted sanctions on people and firms from other countries, diplomats say. Several EU officials said the bloc moved more carefully in targeting Russian officials over the Ukraine crisis because of concerns about the strength of evidence that could be shared with the courts.

Write to Laurence Norman at laurence.norman@wsj.com

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