Turkish-Azeri businessman accused of violating Syria sanctions, following Iran sanctions

The U.S. government issued an advisory focusing on maritime activity associated with North Korea, Iran and Syria, jurisdictions associated with deceptive practices that have been a priority for U.S. sanctions enforcers.

The advisory, issued last week by the U.S. Treasury and State Departments, as well as the U.S. Coast Guard, updates and expands upon existing guidance provided by the U.S. government since 2018. 

It includes information on violations of U.S. sanctions on Syria by vessels believed to belong to the Turkish-owned Palmali Shipping.

Azerbaijani native Mübariz Mansimov, who became naturalised as a Turkish citizen and took on the name Mübariz Gurbanoglu, founded the Palmali Group in Turkey in 1998. 

The businessman is known for his ties to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and U.S. President Donald Trump, according to online news source the Intercept.

A U.S. Treasury's investigation into the Palmali earlier revealed that the firm violated the U.S. embargo against Iran.

In the latest report by U.S. authorities, Palmali’s fleet carried shipments between Syria and other sanctioned jurisdictions.

"The Lenkaran, a chemical and products tanker operated by Palmali, made two port calls over the past six months in the port of Tartous. Both port calls were preceded by stops at the port of Rostov-on-Don in Russia, with a stop in between in Istanbul. The Lenkaran has also made at least four port calls in Iranian ports over the past year," Kharon news site said, citing the report.

Two other chemical and products tankers operated by Palmali, the Armada Explorer and the Chingiz Mustafayev, made port calls in Iran this year; the Chingiz Mustafayev also made a port call in Tartous in November 2018, according to the report.

The Russian unit of Palmali, one of the biggest players in Russia’s river-to-sea cargo market, was declared bankrupt by a Russian court in 2018 after Russian multinational energy corporation PJSC Lukoil Oil Company took Mansimov to court on allegations of tax evasion. 

The case rested on allegations of Mansimov using tax haven-Malta, utilised frequently by members of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), at the financial detriment of the Russian state. 

Records reveal the cash transfer of $21.2 million from Mansimov to Erdoğan’s family as well as links to another company registered in the Isle of Man that belonged to Erdoğan’s brother-in-law and his son, according to The Intercept. 

Mansimov also reportedly gifted Erdoğan’s family $25 million oil tanker under a secretive offshore arrangement, according to the Black Sea website.

But, the Azeri-Turkish businessman was detained in early March for links to Gülen movement, a religious group accused of carrying out a coup attempt in 2016.