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US sanctions Erdogan associate over ties to Islamic Revolutionary Guard

US Treasury says the prominent Turkish businessman funnelled tens of millions in oil revenue to IRGC commanders
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani leave a press conference in Ankara with their Russian counterpart following a trilateral meeting about Syria, on 16 September 2019 (AFP)

The Biden administration has slapped sanctions on a prominent Turkish businessman and close associate of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for allegedly operating a trading network that handled hundreds of millions of dollars worth of oil for Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps.

On Thursday, sanctions were placed on Sitki Ayan, his son, and a top lieutenant, freezing any assets they have under US jurisdiction and inhibiting their access to global financial and trading markets.

“Ayan’s companies have established international sales contracts for Iranian oil with foreign purchasers, arranged shipments of oil, and helped launder the proceeds, obscuring the oil’s Iranian origin and the (Guard’s) interest in the sales,” the US Treasury said in a statement.

'Head of Quds force finance' 

A Politico report says Ayan helped Tehran generate about $1bn in oil revenue since 2020 by using a network of companies around the globe to disguise the true origin of Iranian oil, using front companies and banks in India, Russia, and the UAE.

The report says that in one case, Ayan used his company's bank in Istanbul to transfer at least $80m to accounts controlled by Behnam Shahriyari, a senior commander in Iran’s Quds force, the elite foreign arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

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“Sitki Ayan serves currently as the head of Quds Force’s largest financial network in Turkey and possibly the entire world,” an unnamed western official told Politico.

The US frequently targets businesspeople and entities that help Iran evade sanctions. The Biden administration has been ramping up sanctions on Iran in recent months, with prospects for a nuclear deal all but gone and tensions over Iran’s military support for Russia.

The new sanctions could complicate ties between the US and Turkey.

Ayan is chairman of the Istanbul-based ASB Group, an international energy conglomerate, and enjoys close ties with Erdogan. They attended the same high school.

Recently, the US has sought to balance differences with Turkey in hotspots like the Eastern Mediterranean and Syria, as it looks for its Nato ally’s support in the Ukraine war.

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