December 16, 2022 | Flash Brief

US Sanctions Friend of Turkish President for Helping Iran Evade Sanctions

December 16, 2022 | Flash Brief

US Sanctions Friend of Turkish President for Helping Iran Evade Sanctions

Latest Developments 

The U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned on December 8 Sitki Ayan– a Turkish businessman and friend of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – accusing him and his companies of circumventing sanctions on Iran’s energy industry. According to Treasury, Ayan facilitated the sale of millions of dollars’ worth of oil for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force (IRGC-QF).

Expert Analysis

“Despite the Justice Department’s 2019 indictment of Halkbank — a top Turkish public lender — for its role in a multi-billion-dollar sanctions evasion scheme, it seems other Turkish entities have continued to enrich themselves by helping Iran and its terrorist proxies get around U.S. law. The Biden administration should press Ankara hard to stamp out the terror finance activity that flourishes in Turkey while the government turns a blind eye.”
Sinan Ciddi, FDD Non-Resident Senior Fellow on Turkey

Ayan’s Companies Benefited Iran’s Terrorist Proxies 

According to Treasury, Ayan serves as director and chairman of the board of the Gibraltar-registered ASB Group of Companies Limited (ASB Group), which agreed to sell crude oil from the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC). The United States sanctioned NIOC in 2020 for its support of the IRGC-QF. Treasury stated that Ayan used his business network to “facilitate and conceal” the oil shipments on behalf of senior IRGC-QF officials, working with buyers in China, the United Arab Emirates, and Europe. Ayan then funneled the proceeds back to the IRGC-QF as well as the Iran-backed terrorist group Hezbollah.

Turkey Facilitated Sanctions Evasion for Years  

Despite its membership in NATO, Ankara has a record of helping anti-Western dictatorships and terrorist organizations circumvent sanctions, including Iran, Russia, and the Islamic State (IS). In May, Treasury sanctioned three Turkey-based IRGC-QF officials for working, with Russian backing, to conceal the source of the proceeds from illicit Iranian oil and petrochemical sales worth more than $6 million.

In 2019, a U.S. federal court indicted the Turkish state-owned bank Halkbank for laundering approximately $20 billion of Iranian gas and oil revenue. According to Treasury, IS also maintained a network of “logistical hubs in Turkey,” allowing IS to launder money and receive recruits and materials. Networks affiliated with Hezbollah and Hamas also operate in Turkey.

Ayan Is Part of Erdogan’s Inner Circle

New reporting this month in Politico outlined Ayan’s close relationship to Erdogan, with whom he attended high school. Ayan, for example, helped Erdogan conceal his ownership of a $25 million oil tanker that the Turkish president and his family received as a gift from an unknown benefactor in 2008.

Related Analysis

Halkbank’s Supreme Court Appeal Will Delay Iran Sanctions-Evasion Case,” by Aykan Erdemir

Turkey Supports Hamas, Which Means an Alliance With Israel Isn’t Going To Happen,” by Jonathan Schanzer

Turkey Seeks Sovereign Immunity in Two Cases Before the Supreme Court,” FDD Flash Brief

Hamas Operations Continue Unhindered in Turkey,” FDD Flash Brief


Iran Iran Sanctions Sanctions and Illicit Finance Turkey