BY ZEYNEP GURCANLI
Tensions between the USA and Turkey seem to be getting worse with new sanctions placed on a Turkish businessman by the US Treasury Department. For this new decision, the US Treasury used the same reasoning as in the case of Reza Zarrab-Hakan Atilla and the case against Halkbank in the New York Federal Court. Sıtkı Ayan, a businessman and close ally of President Erdogan’s, broke oil sanctions on Iran.
Ayan, his son Bahaddin Ayan and their business partners Kasım Öztaş, Mustafa Ömer Kaptan, and Murat Teke, along with a total of 26 companies belonging to Ayan, including the ASB group of companies and an oil company, were all sanctioned by the US Treasury Department announced on Thursday, December 8th.
IRANIAN OIL ALLEGEDLY SOLD TO CHINA AND RUSSIA
US -based media group Politico wrote in detail about the sanction decision against Ayan. The events that led to the sanction decision began with a meeting that took place in a hotel in Beirut on March 22, 2021.
Sıtkı Ayan’s relationship with Iran was first revealed to the public with a pipeline project in 2010. Ayan was already on Washington’s radar, due to a project that planned build a 660 km pipeline to transport Iranian natural gas to Europe via Turkey, which the AK Party government included in its “incentive list” in 2013. The project was shut down due to sanctions concerns. Traces of this were also included in Wikileaks documents.
When it became clear that Sıtkı Ayan was meeting with Iran’s former Oil Minister, Rustam Ghasemi, at a hotel in Beirut in March 2021, he was apparently put under close watch by Washington.
According to the reporting in the Politico article, the sale of Iranian oil to the Haokun Energy company in China was discussed at the Beirut meeting, using fake documents – by showing the source of the oil as if it was from another country.
The article, which outlines how Sıtkı Ayan’s business contacts in many countries of the world were allegedly used both for the leasing of the tankers to transport Iranian oil and for finding fake documents, also states that Iranian oil was sent not only to China but also to Russia.
TIMING OF SANCTIONS SIGNIFICANT
The “timing ” of the US decision to impose sanctions on Sıtkı Ayan and his business partners is also remarkable.
Two issues of contention between Turkey and the USA have come to the fore recently. The first is the possibility of a new ground operation by Turkish forces against terrorist elements in Syria. The second is Ankara’s veto on the expansion of NATO, which the USA is pushing for, to include Finland and Sweden.
It is worth noting that while the American side has warned Turkey not to go ahead with the Syria operations at the highest level, on the other hand, US Secretary of State Blinken has spoken as if Finland and Sweden have already joined NATO in his latest statements.
In May 2022, the US Treasury also imposed sanctions on all individuals and companies, from China to Iran, involved in Iranian oil sales claims, except for Ayan.
Even Politico, which covers all the allegations regarding the sanctions, is asking why Sıtkı Ayan was sanctioned now, rather than at the same time as the Chinese and Iranian companies alleged to be involved in the scheme in May 2022.