WASHINGTON, Dec. 8 (Reuters) – The Biden administration on Thursday imposed sanctions on prominent Turkish businessman Sitki Ayan and his network of companies, accusing him of acting as a facilitator of oil sales and money laundering on behalf of the Revolutionary Guards of Iran.
Ayan’s companies have negotiated international sales contracts for Iranian oil, arranged shipments and helped launder the proceeds and obscured the origin of the Iranian oil on behalf of Iran’s Quds Force, an arm of the IRGC, the finance ministry said in a statement. which was first reported by Reuters.
“Ayan made business contracts to sell Iranian oil worth hundreds of millions of dollars to buyers,” the statement read in China, the United Arab Emirates and Europe, adding that he then funneled the proceeds back to the Quds Force.
Ayan’s son Bahaddin Ayan, his associate Kasim Oztas and two other Turkish citizens associated with his business network are also designated, along with 26 companies, including his ASB Group of Companies, a Gibraltar-based holding company and a vessel.
Ayan, son Bahaddin and Oztas were not immediately available for comment. Ayan’s ASB group and the Turkish communications agency did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The Treasury Department’s action freezes all US assets of those designated and generally prohibits Americans from dealing with them. Those who engage in certain transactions with those designated also risk sanctions.
The US moves come at a time when ties between the United States and Turkey are strained over a host of issues, including disagreements over Syrian policy and Ankara’s purchase of Russian air defense systems.
Most recently, Washington warned Turkey to refrain from a military incursion into northern Syria after Ankara said it was preparing a possible ground invasion against the Syrian-Kurdish YPG militia it considers terrorists but who make up the bulk of the US-backed Syrian fighters. Democratic Forces (SDF).
Washington is enforcing far-reaching sanctions against Iran and looking for ways to step up the pressure as efforts to revive a 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran have stalled.
US President Joe Biden had attempted to negotiate Iran’s return to the nuclear deal after former President Donald Trump pulled out of the deal in 2018.
The 2015 agreement limited Iran’s uranium enrichment activity to make it more difficult for Tehran to develop nuclear weapons in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions. Iran denies acquiring nuclear weapons.
Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Daphne Psaledakis; Additional reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun; Edited by Don Durfee and Howard Goller
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