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US blacklists Erdogan-linked businessman for violating sanctions on Iran, Hezbollah

Treasury Department accuses Turkey’s Sitki Ayan of laundering oil sale proceeds for Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Lebanese terror group

Illustrative: An Iranian Revolutionary Guard speedboat moves in the Persian Gulf while an oil tanker is seen in background, July 2, 2012. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)
Illustrative: An Iranian Revolutionary Guard speedboat moves in the Persian Gulf while an oil tanker is seen in background, July 2, 2012. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration has imposed sanctions on a prominent Turkish businessman reportedly close to Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for violating US restrictions on the sales of Iranian oil.

The US Treasury Department announced Thursday it was penalizing Sitki Ayan and a number of companies he and his family and associates control for facilitating the sale of hundreds of millions of dollars of Iranian oil for Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its Quds Force, the branch tasked with carrying out overseas operations.

Ayan and his firms have also laundered the proceeds of those sales for both the Guard and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, both of which are designated as foreign terrorist organizations by the US, the Treasury said.

The sanctions include a freeze on any assets Ayan or the targeted companies may have in US jurisdictions and bar Americans from doing any business with them.

“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 Treasury said in a statement.

It said Ayan, his son, Bahaddin, and three associates had organized sales of Iranian oil in violation of US sanctions for China, other east Asian nations, the United Arab Emirates and some customers in Europe through Ayan’s Gibralter-based ASB Group of Companies Limited holding group.

He also had “the backing of senior levels of the Russian Federation government and state-run entities,” the Treasury said.

ASB owns or controls numerous firms in Turkey, Cyprus, India and the Marshall Islands.

The sanctions on Ayan were part of an effort to deny the IRGC revenue due to its terror ties, the Treasury said.

The US has maintained sanctions on Iran to pressure the regime over its nuclear program, although talks aimed at reviving the 2015 deal that limited the program have been stalled for months.

In addition, the US has taken steps to punish Iran’s government after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini at the hands of morality police in September, the ensuing mass protests against the regime and the government’s violent crackdown against demonstrators.

The US imposed sanctions on the morality police and the leaders of other Iranian law enforcement agencies, denying them access to any property or financial assets held in the US.

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