The state Board of Public Works is expected to put 22 companies on notice Wednesday that they must show they are not investing in Iran's energy sector or be disqualified from doing business with the state.
The companies are the first to be targeted under a law passed by the General Assembly this past spring. It is intended to throw whatever influence Maryland can muster behind international sanctions against the Islamic republic to discourage it from attempts to produce nuclear weapons.
The legislation, proposed by the O'Malley administration, was passed unanimously by the House and Senate. It bars any person or company that invests $20 million or more in Iranian energy enterprises from receiving state contracts.
"We're not going to have taxpayers' dollars supporting the Iranian regime," said Raquel Guillory, a spokeswoman for Gov. Martin O'Malley. She said the governor proposed the legislation because of concerns about the Iranian government's nuclear ambitions, support of terrorism and human rights violations.
How much impact the law will have on Tehran is questionable. None of the 22 firms currently work for the state, according to Gregory Bedward, who as counsel to the public works board compiled the list.
Bedward said the board — made up of O'Malley, Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp — will be asked to approve a list of companies he has identified as possible investors in Iran, based on information from government databases, media reports and other sources.
The 22 companies will be notified that unless they give the state credible assurance that they are not doing business with Iranian energy interests, they will be placed on a list of firms that are barred from bidding on state contracts, Bedward said.
The companies will have 90 days to reply, he said. The board will get another chance to review the list before it takes effect.
None of the firms targeted are based in the United States. Only one name might appear familiar to American consumers: Hyundai Heavy Industries, the world's largest shipbuilder. However, that company has no connection to the similarly named automaker, said Jim Trainor, a spokesman for Hyundai Motor Co.
The group United Against Nuclear Iran has criticized Hyundai Heavy Industries for its dealings with Iran and has faulted the Obama administration for failing to put it on the sanctions list.
Bedward noted that the law also bars Maryland from doing business with any financial institution that provides loans of $20 million or more to companies that make the final list. He said he was unable to identify any financial institutions that could be included.
The lawyer said he compiled the list from sources that included the federal Government Accountability Office and the State Retirement Agency, which tracks such investments to avoid putting state pension money in Iranian ventures. The GAO creates lists of these companies to help enforce U.S. government sanctions against Iranian investors and suppliers.
"If the GAO listed it, that was good enough for me," said Bedward, adding that without such certification, his agency relied on information from two or more outside sources before putting a company on the list.
States were authorized to adopt such laws under a 2010 federal statute. The law requires that states use credible information to identify companies suspected of Iranian investments and to give them an opportunity to dispute such findings.
Guillory said Maryland became the fifth state to adopt sanctions against Iran when O'Malley signed the bill this spring, joining New York, Indiana, California and Florida.
Some firms on the list already are the targets of federal sanctions. They include the state-run Petroleos de Venezuela, the Belorussian firm Belarusneft, China's Zhuhai Zhenrong Co., Singapore's FAL Oil Co. and Kuo Oil, and Switzerland-based Naftiran. Others, including Angola's Sonangol, reportedly have pulled out of Iran in response to international sanctions.
India's ONCG Videsh Ltd. recently saw its plans to acquire $5 billion in shale oil assets in Alberta, Canada, stymied because of the firm's investments in Iran and Sudan.