Exclusive: The United States imposes sanctions on a Turkish businessman, citing ties to the Iranian Quds Force

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Biden administration on Thursday slapped sanctions on prominent Turkish businessman Setke Ayan and his network of companies, accusing him of acting as a facilitator to sell oil and launder money on behalf of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

The Treasury Department said in a statement first reported by Reuters that Ayan companies entered into international sales contracts for Iranian oil, arranged shipments and assisted in laundering proceeds and withholding the source of Iranian oil on behalf of Iran’s Quds Force, an arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

The statement stated that “Ayaan entered into business contracts to sell Iranian oil worth hundreds of millions of dollars to buyers” in China, the United Arab Emirates and Europe, adding that he then transferred the proceeds to the Quds Force.

Ayan Bahauddin Ayan’s son and partner Kasim Oztas and two other Turkish nationals involved in his business network, along with 26 companies including the ASB Group of Companies, a holding company based in Gibraltar and a ship, were also named.

Ayan, Ibn Bahauddin and Oztas could not immediately be reached for comment. Ayan Group’s ASB Group and Turkey’s Communications Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The Treasury has frozen any US assets of those identified and generally bars Americans from doing business with them. Those who engage in certain transactions with those specified are also subject to penalties.

The US actions come at a time when relations between the US and Turkey have been strained over a host of issues, including a row over Syrian policy and Ankara’s purchase of Russian air defense systems.

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Recently, Washington warned Turkey to refrain from launching a military incursion into northern Syria after Ankara said it was preparing for a possible ground invasion against the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which it considers terrorist but make up the bulk of US-backed Syrians. Democratic Forces (SDF).

Washington is pursuing sweeping sanctions on Iran and looking for ways to ramp up pressure as efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran falter.

US President Joe Biden sought to negotiate Iran’s return to the nuclear deal after former President Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement in 2018.

The 2015 deal limited Iran’s uranium enrichment activity, making it more difficult for Tehran to develop nuclear weapons in return for the lifting of international sanctions. Iran denies its desire to acquire nuclear weapons.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Daphne Psalidakis); Additional reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun. Editing by Don Durfey and Howard Goller

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