US imposes sanctions on Turkish businessman, citing links to Iran's Quds Force

The US accused Sitki Ayan and his network of companies of acting as a facilitator for oil sales and money laundering on behalf of IRGC.

Members of a special IRGC force attend a rally marking the annual Quds Day, or Jerusalem Day, on the last Friday of the holy month of Ramadan in Tehran, Iran, April 29, 2022. (photo credit: MAJID ASGARIPOUR/WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY) VIA REUTERS)
Members of a special IRGC force attend a rally marking the annual Quds Day, or Jerusalem Day, on the last Friday of the holy month of Ramadan in Tehran, Iran, April 29, 2022.
(photo credit: MAJID ASGARIPOUR/WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY) VIA REUTERS)

The Biden administration on Thursday is set to impose sanctions on prominent Turkish businessman Sitki Ayan and his network of companies, accusing him of acting as a facilitator for oil sales and money laundering on behalf of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

According to a Treasury statement due to be released later on Thursday and seen by Reuters, Ayan's companies have established 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.

"Ayan has established business contracts to sell Iranian oil worth hundreds of millions of dollars to buyers," in China, the United Arab Emirates and Europe, the statement says, adding that he then funneled the proceeds back to the Quds Force.

Ayan's son Bahaddin Ayan, his associate Kasim Oztas and another individual will also be designated, along with at least two dozen companies including his ASB Group of Companies, a Gibraltar-based holding company.

In an emailed response to a Reuters' request for comment, Sitki Ayan said, "We will defend our legal rights against everyone."

Turkish flag flutters at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, (credit: REUTERS/FRANCOIS LENOIR)Turkish flag flutters at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, (credit: REUTERS/FRANCOIS LENOIR)

He had been involved in two business activities with Iran, he added. These were trade of oil and petroleum products ended by sanctions in 2010, and the sale of Iranian electricity to Turkey from 2009 to 2015, which he quit over payment problems.

"I have never worked with anyone other than Iranian official government institutions in any period of my life," he said.

Ayan's son Bahaddin and Oztas were not immediately available for comment. Ayan's ASB Group and Turkey's communications directorate did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The Treasury action will freeze any US assets of those designated and generally bar Americans from dealing with them. Those that engage in certain transactions would also risk being hit with sanctions.

The United States and Turkish relationship

The US measures come at a time when ties between the United States and Turkey are strained over a host of issues, including disagreement over Syria policy and Ankara's purchase of Russian air defense systems.

Most recently, Washington has warned Turkey to refrain from carrying out a military incursion into northern Syria after Ankara said it was preparing a possible ground invasion against the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia that it views as terrorists but who make up the bulk of US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

Washington maintains sweeping sanctions on Iran and has looked for ways to increase pressure as efforts to resurrect a 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran have stalled.

US President Joe Biden had sought to negotiate the return of Iran to the nuclear deal after former President Donald Trump pulled out of the agreement in 2018.

The 2015 agreement limited Iran's uranium enrichment activity to make it harder for Tehran to develop nuclear arms in return for lifting international sanctions. Iran denies wanting to acquire nuclear weapons.