US unveils sanctions on Turkish businessman over IRGC oil sales

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The US Treasury Department on Thursday designated a network led by Turkish businessman Sitki Ayan, which it accused of facilitating the sale of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of oil for Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control said Ayan’s network both facilitated and concealed the transfer of Iranian oil on behalf of the IRGC’s foreign arm, the Quds Force. It said he used his business contacts to sell the oil to buyers in the United Arab Emirates, Europe, China and elsewhere in East Asia, and then funneled the proceeds back to the Quds Force.

ASB Group, a Gibraltar-registered holding company where Ayan serves as director and chairman of the board, was also sanctioned for allegedly transferring millions of dollars in different currencies for the Quds Force.

OFAC designated more than two dozen companies and individuals linked to Ayan, ASB Group and the IRGC-QF. Included in the sanctions was Ayan’s son, Bahaddin Ayan.

The Biden administration has stepped up its targeting of Iran’s sanctions-evasion efforts as prospects for resurrecting the landmark nuclear deal have dimmed and anti-government protests continue across Iran. Last month, the administration imposed sanctions on 13 companies it said were part of a network supporting the sale of Iranian oil and petrochemicals.

The latest counterterrorism sanctions demonstrate “the United States’ ongoing commitment to deny the IRGC-QF its revenue streams and to target those who abuse the international financial system in support of the group,” Brian Nelson, the Treasury’s under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a statement.

“The United States will continue to strictly enforce sanctions on the IRGC’s illicit oil sales trade,” Nelson said.

Ayan is said to be a close confidant of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In 2017, the country’s main opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu claimed that Erdogan’s family members transferred millions of dollars abroad using a front company owned by Ayan. Kilicdaroglu also said Kasim Oztas — another individual sanctioned by the Treasury on Thursday — was involved in the transactions.

Ayan’s firm Som Petrol, which was also sanctioned on Thursday, is known to have been operating in Iran for several years. The company signed a contract worth $1.3 billion in 2010 with Iran’s Oil Ministry to export Iranian gas to Europe via Turkey.

The sanctions on Ayan and his network come as relations between Washington and Ankara are strained over Turkey’s threatened ground operation targeting US-backed Kurdish fighters in northern Syria. The Biden administration has warned a renewed Turkish offensive would undermine its fight against the Islamic State and worsen the region’s humanitarian crisis.

This breaking story has been updated since first publication.

Elizabeth Hagedorn


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