US slaps sanctions on airlines suspected of aiding terrorism

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The US Department of the Treasury is placing sanctions on three airlines, an air transport firm and company officials that it says have helped Iranian air carriers move illicit cargo to Syria in violation of existing sanctions.

Ukrainian-Mediterranean Airlines and Bukovyna Airlines, both based in Ukraine, and Kyrgyz Trans Avia, based in Kyrgyzstan, were designated by the Treasury Department as subject to an executive order that authorizes the US government to impose sanctions against them, according to a Treasury Department media release.

Ukrainian-Mediterranean Airlines is also known as Um Air.

The order, signed by then president George W. Bush shortly after the September 2001 terrorist attacks, allows the Treasury Department to block assets of individuals or entities suspected of posing a terrorism risk.

In addition to the airlines, the Treasury Department designated United Arab Emirates-based Sirjanco Trading as subject to the order, as well as employees of several companies.

Those individuals include Um Air owner and chairman Rodrigue Elias Merhej, Kyrgyz Trans Avia director Lidia Kim and Hamid Arabnejad, director of Iranian airline Mahan Air.

This "aircraft procurement network" provided dozens of aircraft to Iran in recent years, the US says.

The Treasury Department calls Kyrgyz Trans Avia an "umbrella company purposely established for importing aircraft to Iran," and says Sirjanco Trading was created specifically as a "financial front" to help Mahan Air acquire aircraft.

The US says Kyrgyz Trans Avia has helped Mahan Air acquire eight aircraft in recent years. It says Bukovyna Airlines has provided aircraft to Mahan Air and Iran Air, and has provided Iran Air with financial, material and technological support.

Um Air has delivered multiple British Aerospace 146 Avro RJ aircraft to Mahan Air and has helped train Mahan's pilot and engineers, the US says.

The aircraft supplied to the Iranian carriers have been used to move illicit cargo to Syria - cargo that the US says supported Syrian president Bashar Assad in his "violent crackdown against" Syrian civilians.

Mahan Air and Iran Air are already sanctioned by the US. Kyrgyz Trans Avia is on the EU's list of banned airlines, and Iran Air is restricted to operating only certain aircraft within Europe.

The Treasury Department notes that Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' Qods Force, a military division suspected training paramilitary groups, and Lebanese Hizballah, have been involved in the shipments.

On 5 June, the US government also announced new sanctions against companies that it says have aided Iran's efforts to avoid oil-related sanctions.