US Treasury’s big stick hits Armenia sales agent that ‘acts for sanctioned Iranian airline’

US Treasury’s big stick hits Armenia sales agent that ‘acts for sanctioned Iranian airline’
The US accuses Mahan Air of laying on military flights for Iran's IRGC Quds Force in Syria.
By bne IntelliNews January 24, 2019

An Armenian general sales agent said to provide services to a sanctioned Iranian carrier was hit by the big stick of the US Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) on January 24.

Flight Travel LLC, based in Yerevan, has been targeted with sanctions for acting for or on behalf of Iran’s second largest airline, Mahan Air, in Armenia, the Treasury said. It added that the company was staffed by Mahan Air employees and receives Mahan technical support. On January 21, Germany pulled its licence for Mahan Air citing security concerns and activities such as military transport flights the carrier was said to lay on in conflict-torn Syria in association with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

Armenia is in some difficulty when it comes to respecting the US sanctions regime targeted at Iran and foreign companies that continue to do business with Iran. The small, impoverished nation struggles to find trade and investment opportunities among its neighbours. It has no diplomatic ties with Azerbaijan, or Azerbaijan’s close ally Turkey, given the longrunning dispute over the sovereignty of Nagorno-Karabakh, and must ensure it does not upset strategic ally Moscow in its dealings with Georgia—the Georgians remain locked in dispute with the Kremlin over breakaway territories. When uber-hawk White House national security advisor John Bolton visited Yerevan last October it was made clear to him that Armenia cannot afford to entirely shun Iran. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian drove home that point in parliament in early November.

As well as targeting Flight Travel, the US Treasury announced it was imposing sanctions on two Iran-backed foreign militias fighting in Syria and Qeshm Fars Air, which it said was owned or controlled by Mahan Air. It said all four targeted entities were tied to the IRGC’s elite Quds Force, which pursues Iranian military activities abroad, and Mahan Air.

Migrants ‘recruited to fight’
The militias are the Fatemiyoun Division and the Zaynabiyoun Brigade, the fighters of which were recruited by the IRGC mostly from Afghan and Pakistani refugees as well as migrants residing in Iran, US officials said.

"The brutal Iranian regime exploits refugee communities in Iran, deprives them of access to basic services such as education, and uses them as human shields for the Syrian conflict," US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

Qeshm Fars Air provides material support to the Quds Force, the Treasury claimed, saying the carrier has operated regular flights to Damascus, delivering cargo, including weapons shipments.

The US imposed sanctions on Mahan Air as far back as 2011.

Sigal Mandelker, US undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a statement: “Iran continues to leverage Mahan Air and its commercial aviation sector to transport individuals and weapons needed to carry out this tragic campaign and to fuel sectarian conflict throughout the region."

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