Apparently relieved that Erdoğan killed the Quds Force probe and prevented the case from reaching court, Akşit continued to work with Iranian contacts. The fact that the US Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) issued a Temporary Denial Order against Akşit and her firm Trigron on February 2, 2018 for violation US export regulations confirmed that she went on doing business with Iranian contacts until 2018. Writes Abdullah Bozkurt
A US-sanctioned Turkish woman whose companies were listed as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs) for aiding and abetting the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) continues to operate in Turkey, a Nordic Monitor investigation has revealed.
Gülnihal Yegane Akşit, 45, was sanctioned by the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) on May 24, 2018 as a person who secured export-controlled US-origin goods for a sanctioned Iranian airlines.
Her company, Trigron Lojistik Kargo Limited Şirketi, was also designated “for enabling designated Iranian airline Mahan Air to secure key aviation goods and services and sustain its fleet of Western-manufactured aircraft.” Mahan Air was sanctioned in 2011 by the US for providing financial, material and technological support to the IRGC Quds Force.
The designation prompted Akşit to rush to liquidate Trigron, filing papers to dissolve the firm on June 7, 2018. The liquidation is still pending. In fact, according to a trade registry filing on January 29, 2021, she got herself appointed as a trustee to the company with a limited mandate after a commercial court in Bakirkoy issued a decision a month earlier.
Akşit’s firms appear to have been short-lived and were designed to serve a specific purpose and then be dissolved. Another firm she was involved with was BGS Lojistik ve Turizm Hizmetleri Limited Şirketi, which was set up on April 26, 2011. The company was liquidated and dissolved on February 27, 2015. She had shares in logistics, tourism and airways company Pioneer Logistics Havacilik Turizm Yönetim Danişmanlik İthalat İhracat Sanayi Ticaret Limited Şirketi. The company was established on October 7, 2010 and dissolved on February 25, 2014.
Despite a track record of dissolving firms she helped establish in recent years, Akşit nevertheless continues to operate in the business world. She has a company registered under the name of Yegane Akademi Eğitim Danışmanlık Limited Şirketi, a consulting and education firm that has been active in a range of sectors from event planning and advertising to exhibitions and meetings.
Trade registry data indicates that she set up the company on September 6, 2017. The office address was initially listed in a residential complex in Istanbul’s Eyüp district and then moved to office space in the same district.
Although her companies were targeted by the US and a confidential Turkish investigation into the IRGC Quds Force that was initiated in 2011 incriminated her under Turkish law, Akşit has managed to remain clear of legal troubles thanks to the protection provided by the government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to Quds Force cells in Turkey.
The Turkish investigation named top IRGC operatives as suspects, uncovered Turkish operatives, revealed Iran’s intelligence assets including some senior government officials and exposed how Erdoğan personally greeted an IRGC general, a lead suspect in the case. The case was hushed up by the Erdoğan government. Investigators, prosecutors and judges who were involved in the criminal probe were all sacked and later arrested on trumped-up charges to save the IRGC from a major crackdown in NATO border ally Turkey.
According to the investigation file, in 2013 Turkish police confirmed a connection between Gülnihal Yegane and Rahim Bazdar, (aka Selman, holding passport number Y21101017), an Iranian national who was working for the IRGC. The Istanbul prosecutor’s investigation file No.2011/762 includes a wiretap transcript that shows Yegane talking to Bazdar on November 26, 2013. The wiretap, authorized by an İstanbul court, reveals how Yegane fulfilled purchase orders and procured parts after a request by Ali Kiaasat Far, another IRGC operative working under the cover of a deputy cultural attaché at Iran’s Istanbul consulate general. The conversation involved a payment dispute after Yegane purchased items requested by Kiaasat and paid for them before receiving payment from the Iranian side. She was complaining to Bazdar that the payment had not yet been made to her.
Bazdar had been under surveillance according to court documents that show several warrants were obtained from judges who authorized physical surveillance on Bazdar in 2013 in addition to communication wiretaps. Investigators were able to map out his web of links and who else he had been meeting in various İstanbul locations. Video footage and still shots from the surveillance were included in the case file. Bazdar was even stopped at Istanbul Atatürk Airport upon his return to Turkey with his family on May 22, 2013, and his luggage was searched on the pretext of looking for drugs at the airport to find out more about his dealings.
Apparently relieved that Erdoğan killed the Quds Force probe and prevented the case from reaching court, Akşit continued to work with Iranian contacts.
The fact that the US Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) issued a Temporary Denial Order against Akşit and her firm Trigron on February 2, 2018 for violation US export regulations confirmed that she went on doing business with Iranian contacts until 2018.
Three weeks after Akşit was identified in the wiretap, a separate investigation that looked into a major corruption network involving another Iranian sanctions buster, Reza Zarrab, who bribed senior government officials including Cabinet ministers and cultivated personal ties with Erdoğan, was made public on December 17, 2013. Dozens of suspects including Zarrab were detained and later arrested for violating several Turkish laws.
Erdoğan, who was incriminated in the probe, stepped in to derail the prosecution and helped release all the suspects after he orchestrated the removal of the lead prosecutors and investigators in the case. All suspects including Zarrab were later acquitted by new judges who were brought in to oversee the case by the Erdoğan government.
However, Zarrab was arrested by the FBI in Miami in 2016 and charged by the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York with engaging in hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of transactions on behalf of the Iranian government, money laundering and bank fraud. He cut a bargain with prosecutors and decided to cooperate in a US federal case that exposed the role of Erdoğan, who had instructed Turkish state banks to participate in the multi-billion-dollar scheme in exchange for kickbacks.
At the end of the trial, the deputy general manager of state lender Halkbank was convicted and served time before returning to Turkey. The co-conspirators who were indicted by the US federal prosecutors including former Economy Minister of Turkey in Erdoğan Cabinet remain at large.