A number of dual United States citizens have skirted U.S. sanctions on Iran, to the benefit of the Islamic Republic’s recently-sanctioned Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). While several of these cases have been brought to light recently, there are still many others that have potentially been overlooked by the United States Treasury Department.
These individuals and companies have illegally bypassed sanctions through wholesale methods or by opening businesses in countries not listed on the U.S. Treasury Department’s sanctions list to conduct business with Iran. However, the Treasury Department’s sanctions apply to U.S. citizens and U.S. residents, all defined as “U.S. persons” under the law.
For example, in February, the Department of Justice charged multiple dual U.S. persons and a foreign airline with attempting to skirt federal anti-terror restrictions by illegally shipping aircraft parts to Syria, where Iran has a substantial presence. These parts have dual military and civilian uses.
In October, three dual U.S.-citizens pleaded guilty in a Miami, Florida federal court to conspiring to defraud the U.S. and to illegally exporting dual-use military parts to Syrian Arab Airlines; a government-run airline that the Treasury Department says is “blocked by OFAC for transporting weapons and ammunition to Syria in conjunction with Hezbollah, a terrorist organization, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).”
There is also an ongoing probe and lawsuit into an Iranian-born Turkish businessman Reza Zarrab for “conspiring to use the U.S. financial system to conduct hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of transactions on behalf of the government of Iran and other Iranian entities, which were barred by United States sanctions.” Also charged in the same case is Hakan Atilla who is the deputy manager of a Turkish state-owned bank named Halkbank.
However, one dual United States-Turkish citizen could potentially be in violation of U.S. sanctions law for allegedly skirting U.S. sanctions on Iran by paying the Iranian regime with cash while he was the owner of a privately-held, Turkey-based jet company.
Exclusive documents and a hand-written testimony indicate that Dr. Yalcin Ayasli, the former owner of Turkey-based Borajet, which has offices in Iran, allegedly paid cash to the Iranian regime, thus violating U.S. sanctions which prevent said transactions from taking place as a result of the Iran nuclear deal.
Ayasli was living in Massachusetts for over 25 years before moving to New Hampshire, where he has lived for the last decade. In his own words, Ayasli said he has “lived in the U.S. for over 40 years.”
U.S. law prohibits American citizens located anywhere in the world, from conducting business with or trade with Iranian companies. The Treasury Department notes that “both an Iranian citizen who is a permanent resident alien of the United States and an individual who is a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen meet the definition of a U.S. person set forth in section 560.314 of the ITSR, regardless of where in the world they are located.” Treasury Department sanctions apply to both U.S. citizens and U.S. residents, all defined as “U.S. persons” under the law.
There are also questions as to whether Borajet, which also had offices in Iran, transported IRGC fighters which is a common practice for other Iranian airlines.
In 2016, a Turkish company, SBK Holding acquired Borajet for $260 million. The airline had 10 small airliners and at least two other jets for its charter business. In April, just before the opening of the new airport in Istanbul, it suspended operations
However, documents acquired exclusively indicate Dr. Ayasli’s company allegedly paid Iran in cash during the years he owned the corporation.
On the first page of a 36-page document, dated from 2013, a line reads, “$20,000 USD is delivered by Borajet aviation transportation aircraft maintenance and commerce corporation to Ali Cemal Arslan.”
There are three signatures on the page. The first is from the person giving the money (Onder OLGE), the second signature belongs to the receiving party (Ali Cemal Arslan), and the third signature is from the person approving the transaction (Kadir Peker); who was Borajet’s general manager before the sale of the company.
The document is written in both Turkish and Persian (or Farsi).
Another page from that same document includes a hand-written note that reads, “From myself, $5,000 USD is given to Mr. Ali Shams and $5,000 to Valeh Alizadeh.” Both these names are Iranian.
On the third page of said document, another handwritten note states the funds were used to pay for “Iran per diem”, meaning an allowance for a trip to Iran.
The document also lists conditions or terms of the transaction. It states, “The Representative is responsible for ensuring the smooth and uninterrupted service of Borajet Flight, including the designation of the required flight permits on the Iranian side, the designation of the hours of trial work, the designation of top travel permits, contracts for all round trips, airports.”
It also notes that, “Borajet will instantly notify the representative of any touristic transportation, passenger, cargo, ticket reservation and sales, airplane rental, etc. that will come from the Iran airport” and states that “each ticket, cargo, airplane sales, etc. that is collected from the representative shall be transferred to the Borajet account within three business days.”
The letter is signed by Kadir Peker, Borajet’s general manager. It is addressed to Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization and the Iran Ministry of Road and Transportation.
A hand-written statement letter from Peker to a Turkish court was provided to the prosecutor during the court case involving Dr. Ayasli. Peker’s letter was taken as a testimony against Dr. Ayasli.
The letter of testimony from Peker indicates Borajet was operating in cash in Iran to evade U.S. sanctions.
Part of Peker’s letter reads, “In the files against me by Borajet at the bankruptcy court, the source of the debt is shown as the money withdrawn from the company as an advanced payment to me. However, the money was really for the purpose of these expenses we listed but due to the embargo, they listed me as the payee (receiver).” Peker goes on to note, “in reality, the money is a payment for the office in Iran, and the company’s establishment [in Tehran] and the people making the connections.” He wrote, “All these payments are made by the instructions of the board member in charge of finance. Zahideh, and Yalcin Ayasli were aware of these payments.” He also stated that he does not owe money to anyone and kindly requested his testimony to be accepted as a petition in proceeding with the case.
Although Peker’s letter does not specifically mention cash, it says “in hand” which is known to mean “cash” in Turkish business transactions.
It further states that due to the American capital or money in the company, they had to pay cash, indicating their intention to conceal the transactions.
It is not uncommon for dual United States citizens to dance with the targets of U.S. sanctions, to the benefit of the Islamic Republic’s recently-sanctioned Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
The letter was written because Borajet declared bankruptcy in court and because of the SBK Holdings group filed a lawsuit against Borajet’s previous owners.
On page four of a 17-page document, Peker addresses a typed letter to Mr. Mohsen Goharkhah listing him as the “mandate to negotiate and collect offers for Iran Civil Aviation Organization.” The letter is dated August 14, 2012.
The Turkish-focused news outlet Turkish-American News posted a response to its article “How Did Borajet’s Previous Owner Yalcin Ayasli Bypass Iran Sanctions?” on Sept. 12. The outlet also posted a letter to the editor by Dr. Ayasli on Sept. 18:
First of all, contrary to the allegations made in the article, BoraJet was not founded in the United States. It happens to be a Turkish company established in Turkey and is a part of the $400 million investment that I, as a Turkish citizen, have made in Turkey. Furthermore, the allegations in the article about BoraJet establishing a company in Iran and flying to Iran concern the years 2012-2013, when I was not on the BoraJet board, contrary to what is reported.
According to sources familiar with the case, Dr. Ayasli has not showed up to the Turkish court that summoned him, breaking both Turkish law and U.S. law in the process.
His case is likely one of several others that will soon be brought to the Treasury Department’s attention.