US sanctions Turkish network for oil sales on behalf of IRGC-QF

"The US sanctioned a Turkish network for facilitating the sale of “hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of oil for Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force.”
The emblem of the US Department of the Treasury. (Photo: AFP)
The emblem of the US Department of the Treasury. (Photo: AFP)

WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan24) - The US Treasury Department announced on Thursday that it had sanctioned a Turkish businessman, Sitki Ayan, and his companies, most of which are based in Istanbul, for facilitating the sale of “hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of oil for Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF.)”

Ayan is a close confidante of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as Politico reported. Others involved in the oil smuggling ring in which Ayan was a central figure were sanctioned last May, and Politico suggested that the delay in designating Ayan was likely due to his ties to the Turkish president.

The scheme for which Ayan was sanctioned grew out of a meeting in Beirut in March 2021, Politico explained. It involved “senior Iranian military and government officials,” along with Ayan and others from his businesses.

The Iranians sought to use Ayan’s companies, above all his “Istanbul-based ASB group, a globe-spanning energy conglomerate” to allow Iran to secretly sell oil to China and Russia, Politico said, and Ayan agreed to the scheme.

Individuals and Companies Sanctioned by the Treasury Department

The sanctions announced on Thursday target five individuals, all Turkish citizens. They include the 60-year old Ayan, along with his 34-year old son, Bahaddin Ayan.

“Sitki Ayan has used his extensive business network to both facilitate and conceal the sale and shipment of Iranian oil on behalf of the IRGC-QF,” a Treasury Department statement announcing the sanctions explained.

This was done “in partnership with senior IRGC-QF officials,” it continued, alluding to the understanding reached in the March 2021 meeting in Beirut, “including U.S.-designated IRGC-QF official Behnam Shahriyari and former IRGC-QF official Rostam Ghasemi.”

Ghasemi joined the IRGC already in 1979, the first year of Iran’s revolutionary regime. Ghasemi rose to the rank of brigadier general, before retiring from the military in 2011 and becoming Oil Minister. He retained that position until 2013 and then returned to government in 2021 as Minister of Roads and Urban Development, after the hardline Ebrahim Raisi was elected prime minister.

Ghasemi died recently from cancer. He was 58 years old.

Bahaddin Ayan, Sitki’s son, “directs and owns shares in at least five ASB Group associated companies,” the Treasury Department said. Two others associated with the ASB Group were also sanctioned: Kazim Oztas and Murat Teke.

The fifth individual sanctioned on Thursday—Mustafa Omer Kaptan—is described as an “IRGC associate,” although he is a Turkish citizen, born in Istanbul. He is also quite young: just 20 years old.

Nonetheless, the Treasury Department charged that Kaptan “facilitated the equivalent of millions of dollars in payments for oil on behalf of the IRGC.”

The ASB Group is headquartered in Istanbul, although it maintains offices in 14 countries. Some 21 Turkish companies linked to Ayan were sanctioned.

In addition, a shipping company—Elvegard Shipping—based in India and in the Marshall Islands as well, was sanctioned, along with a Panamanian-flagged tanker linked to Elvegard. Also sanctioned was CGN Trade, a company that maintains offices in the UAE emirate of Sharjah and in Turkmenistan.