Iranian Airline Used Turkish Front Companies To Skirt US Sanctions

Will Racke | Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter

An Iranian airline under Washington sanctions used multiple Turkish front companies to buy U.S.-made equipment for its planes, federal investigators said in a government filing.

Iran’s Mahan Air, a target of U.S. sanctions for smuggling weapons and fighters into Syria, was able to acquire the American parts by purchasing them through cutouts set up by a Turkish woman, the filing stated, according to the Wall Street Journal. The scheme allowed Mahan to get around the sanctions, which have been in place for a decade because of the airline’s alleged connections to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Mahan is thought to have most recently bought American equipment in December, a discovery that could worsen the mistrust between Washington and Tehran over U.S. sanctions policy. It could also affect the Trump administration’s decision whether to grant Boeing Co. licenses to sell new planes to Iranian air carriers.

Many within the administration have argued that Boeing should not be allowed to sell planes to non-sanctioned Iranian airlines — Iran Air and Aseman Airlines — as Tehran would seek to use them for IRGC operations throughout the Mideast. They worry that the Boeing deal rewards Tehran for bad behavior, which they say includes promoting terrorist groups and developing ballistic missiles in violation of international bans.

Tehran has denied that it is violating weapons bans and says it is complying with the nuclear deal.

There would be significant economic consequences if the Trump administration decides to block the Boeing deal. Both Boeing and Airbus, a European competitor that sources U.S.-made parts for its aircraft, stand to lose a combined $40 billion in contracts if the licenses are rejected, according to TheWSJ.

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Though it is still under U.S. sanctions, Mahan has repeatedly tried to buy Boeing jet engines and airplane parts, according to the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security. Part of its efforts involved purchasing the equipment from shell companies created by Gulnihal Yegane, a Turkish woman who is also prohibited from receiving U.S. exports.

BIS investigators have caught some of the prohibited transactions, but other attempts have successfully moved parts into Iran, the agency said.

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