Risky Business: Leaked Documents Suggest German Firm Indirectly Supports Iran’s Mahan Air

(New York, N.Y.) – As the U.S. increases its reliance upon economic tools to compel authoritarians and rogue regimes to modify their behaviors, businesses are at a greater risk than ever before of running afoul of sanctions or suffering from tremendous reputational harm for engaging with bad actors. Documents recently released by Iranian activist hackers affiliated with Cyber Shafarat suggest that Turkish aviation services firm Fast Aviation is working with Iran’s terrorist airline, Mahan Air, to evade U.S. sanctions. This should be of great concern to Fast Aviation’s vendors, including small businesses such as Germany’s Arriba UG (“Arriba”). 

Assuming the genuineness of the documents, Arriba has provided indirect support to Mahan Air via Fast Aviation, a shadowy entity suspected by United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) of having changed its name in April 2021 to ABM Transport after being placed on the U.S. Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS Unverified List (UVL) in October 2020. 

Mahan Air is banned from German airports and is now in its second decade of operating under U.S. sanctions for its strong ties to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF), a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization. UANI has written to Arriba’s corporate leadership seeking clarification on its suspected ties to Fast Aviation and by extension Mahan Air. These efforts have thus far been unsuccessful. 

“The silence from Arriba only heightens suspicions that it has been doing business, perhaps unwittingly, with a sanctions-busting entity,” said UANI research director Daniel Roth. “There is no reason for businesses to risk being rattled by revelations that they’ve been duped into providing indirect support of the world’s leading state-sponsor of terrorism. The Iranian regime has skillfully created an economy dominated by front companies and is safe in the knowledge that most firms rely upon traditional Know Your Customer (KYC) standards. Business can regain the upper hand, but it will require the adoption of enhanced due diligence measures.” 

Existing KYC standards currently used to protect businesses from engaging directly with sanctioned individuals and entities are inadequate given the Islamic Republic’s extensive use of front companies controlled by sanctioned entities including the IRGC, as well as foundations, known as bonyads, controlled by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The solution is adopting and implementing more stringent Know Your Customer’s Customer (KYCC) policies, which UANI has consistently advocated for businesses of all sizes to adopt. The cost of doing so far outweighs the expensive and potentially ruinous damage to businesses found to be supporting the Iranian regime. 

As recently as Monday, the U.S. Treasury Department announced that the Australian freight and logistics company, Toll Holdings Limited, had agreed to pay more than $6 million in fines for almost 3,000 sanctions violations relating to Iran, North Korea, and Syria.

Hundreds of individuals and companies have been named and fined for violating U.S. sanctions against Iran. Since 1997, nearly $20 billion in fines have been levied, each of which is documented in UANI’s Iran Corporate Violations & Penalties Tracker. This is the only database tracking corporate violations and penalties specifically relating to Iran. It covers more than 500 civil and criminal cases settled by the U.S. Department of Justice and federal agencies. 

UANI also maintains a current database, the Iran Business Registry (IBR), of reputable media and academic reports of international business activities in or with Iran. The IBR seeks to be a complete and comprehensive database encompassing all international Iran business and trade activity. 

To explore UANI’s Iran Corporate Violations & Penalties Tracker, please click here.

To read UANI’s blog, Introducing UANI’s Iran Corporate Violations and Penalties Tracker, please click here.