WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Biden administration on Thursday slapped sanctions on prominent Turkish businessman Sitke Ayan and his network of companies, accusing him of acting as a facilitator to sell oil and launder money on behalf of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
The US measures come at a time when relations between the two countries are strained over a range of issues, including a dispute over Syrian policy and Ankara’s purchase of Russian air defense systems.
The Treasury Department said in a statement first reported by Reuters that Ayan companies entered into international sales contracts for Iranian oil, arranged shipments and assisted in laundering proceeds and withholding the source of Iranian oil on behalf of Iran’s Quds Force, an arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. .
She added that “Ayaan entered into business contracts to sell Iranian oil worth hundreds of millions of dollars to buyers” in China, Europe and the United Arab Emirates, adding that he then returned the proceeds to the Quds Force.
Ayan Bahauddin Ayan’s son and partner Kasim Oztas and two other Turkish nationals involved in his business network, along with 26 companies, including the ASB Group, a holding company based in Gibraltar and a ship, were also named.
In an email response to a Reuters request for comment, Setke Ayan said, “We will defend our legal rights against everyone.”
He added that he was involved in two commercial activities with Iran. These were the trade in oil and petroleum products that ended with sanctions in 2010, and the sale of Iranian electricity to Turkey from 2009 to 2015, which he quit due to payment problems.
“I have never worked with anyone other than the official Iranian government institutions at any point in my life,” he said.
Bahadin and Ayan’s son Oztas could not immediately be reached for comment. Ayan’s ASB Group and Turkey’s Communications Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The Treasury has frozen any US assets of those identified and generally bars Americans from doing business with them. Persons who engage in certain transactions with those specified are also subject to penalties.
Washington recently warned Turkey to refrain from a military incursion into northern Syria after Ankara said it was preparing for a possible ground invasion against the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which it considers terrorist but makes up the bulk of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. .
Washington is pursuing sweeping sanctions on Iran and looking for ways to ramp up pressure as efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran falter.
President Joe Biden sought to negotiate Iran’s return to the nuclear deal after former President Donald Trump withdrew from it in 2018.
The 2015 deal limited Iran’s uranium enrichment activity to make it more difficult for Tehran to develop nuclear weapons in return for the lifting of international sanctions. Iran denies its desire to acquire nuclear weapons.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Daphne Psalidakis); Additional reporting by Ezgi Erkoyon and Darren Butler; Editing by Howard Guller and Clarence Fernandez
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