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LONDON (Reuters) - The United States has charged five Russians and three Syrians with breaking U.S. sanctions by sending jet fuel to Syria and with money laundering by making money transfers through the U.S. financial system to pay for the fuel deliveries.

In an indictment handed up by a grand jury in the District Court for the District of Columbia, the United States said the defendants used petroleum tankers Mukhalatka and Yaz, owned by Transpetrochart, a Russia-based company, to ship jet fuel to Syria.

Reuters was unable to immediately contact the defendants.

"The U.S. sanctions on Syria and Crimea thwart Syria’s support of terrorism and its pursuit and use of weapons of mass destruction," U.S. Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers said in a statement.

Reuters reported in November that Russian tankers had smuggled jet fuel to Syria through EU waters, bolstering military supplies to a war-torn country where Moscow was carrying out air strikes in support of the government. (https://reut.rs/2LPCPF7)

In the November story, Reuters reported that the Yaz and Mukhalatka delivered jet fuel to Syria.

The indictment, published on Tuesday, said Mukhalatka had unloaded thousands of metric tonnes of jet fuel in Syria's Port Banias. It also said the Yaz had delivered jet fuel to the Syrian port.

The defendants engaged in U.S. dollar transactions to deliver jet fuel to Syria in violation of U.S. sanctions, the indictment said.

The Russian defendants were employees of Sovfracht, a Russian shipping company, the indictment said.

A spokesman for Sovfracht did not answer a request for comment but earlier told the Interfax news agency that the company denied any wrongdoing.

"We expect that in the end, the accusations will be removed," the Interfax news agency quoted a spokesman for the company as saying.

(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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Reuters