The European Union on Monday imposed sanctions on Turkey’s Avrasya Shipping, accused of violating a UN arms embargo on Libya at a time when Irini, the EU’s naval and air mission in the Mediterranean, has reached full operational capability to accomplish its mandate of countering arms trafficking to Libya.
The EU Foreign Affairs Council decided to freeze the assets of Avrasya Shipping, which operates the Çirkin, a freighter found to have violated the arms embargo on Libya established in UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1970 (2011). The Çirkin was linked to the transport of military material to Libya in May and June 2020, the EU said.
“The EU imposes restrictive measures on persons and entities whose actions threaten the peace and security of Libya or obstruct the successful completion of its political transition. … The EU is also determined to see the UN arms embargo in Libya fully respected,” the European Council stressed. The EU also imposed sanctions on Kazakhstan’s Sigma Airlines and Med Wave Shipping, based in Jordan.
The Çirkin was involved in a naval incident between NATO members France and Turkey in June. A French frigate on a NATO mission tried to inspect the Çirkin in the eastern Mediterranean on June 10, but Turkish frigates intervened in response.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry criticized the EU decision and said in a statement that “[i]t has no value in our [view] to add our maritime company to the sanctions list in the context of Libya as a result of the EU Foreign Affairs Council’s meeting.”
The EU sanctions for the three companies came three days after Operation Irini announced that it had reached full operational capability with the arrival of the Greek frigate HS Limnos. “Hundreds of vessels and dozens of flights were investigated by Operation EUNAVFOR MED Irini in more than 4 months of activity monitoring sea, air and land possible illicit flows,” the Irini operations center stated on September 18.
In May the EU launched a new Mediterranean naval and air mission named Irini to monitor the UN-mandated arms embargo on Libya, imposed by UNSCR 1970, and to stop arms shipments to the war-torn North African country. Irini replaced the EU’s military mission, Operation Sophia.
According to the official announcement, Irini has three naval vessels provided by Italy, Germany and Greece, four aircraft in direct support from Luxembourg, Poland, France and Greece and one drone provided by Italy.
In more than four months, the operation has “performed 12 visits on collaborative merchant vessels and monitored 10 ports and landing points, 25 airports and landing strips” and sent 14 special reports to the UN Panel of Experts.
Libya has been divided since the 2011 Arab Spring, and a civil war has been ongoing in the country for more than six years. Gen. Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) is supported by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Russia and France, while the Government of National Accord (GNA), led by Fayez al Sarraj, receives military support from Turkey and financial support from Qatar and has been recognized by the UN since 2016. Sarraj announced that he would “hand over the tasks of power to the coming executive authority in a time no later than October.”
The UN Panel of Experts report, released in December 2019, identified multiple and routine military equipment (drones, armored vehicles, laser weapons and other arms and ammunition) shipments in 2019 from Turkey by Turkish authorities, companies and individuals in violation of UNSC Resolution 1970. The report also noted that a large consignment of Kirpi 4×4 Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles, manufactured by Turkish defense contractor BMC, was offloaded in Tripoli from the Moldovan-flagged MV Amazon on May 18, 2019.
According to the report the Presidency of the Defense Industry (SSM) and Turkish companies such as BMC Otomotiv Sanayi ve Ticaret A.S.., Baykar Makina, Akdeniz Roro Deniz Tasimaciligi Turizm Sanayi ve Ticaret Limited Sti., ProAir-CharterTransport GmbH, Plures Air Cargo, Aykar Nakliyat, Bahriye Nur Karabilgin/Cem Gumrukleme Gida Silah Hiozm and Dis Tic were in non-compliance with Paragraph 9 of Resolution 1970 for their certain involvement in the procurement and physical transfer of military materiel to the GNA.
The UN report revealed that charter flights carrying weapons and military equipment obtained diplomatic clearance from the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs to fly to Misrata. This was unusual for a commercial flight, the report stated.
The Turkish defense industry is controlled by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his family members, and the UN expert panel report took note of companies run by Erdoğan’s relatives or his close allies. For instance, Erdoğan’s son-in-law Selçuk Bayraktar, a technology officer at Baykar Makina, which manufactures armed and unarmed drones for the Turkish military and law enforcement agencies, became chief of the Turkish defense industry following his wedding to one of Erdoğan’s daughters. Makina received government support to expand its output.
Moreover, Ethem Sancak, a businessman close to Erdoğan, was transformed into an important figure of the Turkish defense industry after buying BMC in 2014. BMC was originally owned by Cukurova Holding but was seized by the government in 2013 and sold to Sancak at a highly discounted price, while the company’s debts were paid by taxpayers. Sancak, who openly declared his love for Erdoğan, serves as a member of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) executive committee.
UN rapporteurs sent a joint letter in June to the Turkish government seeking further information about its role in the recruitment, financing, transportation and deployment of Syrian jihadist fighters to Libya.
The UN letter also revealed how the Turkish government used its paramilitary contractor SADAT for those operations. “Turkish authorities allegedly contracted private military and security companies to facilitate the selection as well as the preparation of official and contractual documentation for the fighters, apparently in coordination with the Turkish security services. One of the companies cited in this context was Sadat International Defence Consultancy [SADAT],” the letter said.
On September 1, a report by the US Defense Department’s inspector general revealed that SADAT has overseen supervision and payment to the mercenaries, AP reported. SADAT, which is fully funded and supported by the Turkish government, is owned by retired Gen. Gen. Adnan Tanrıverdi, a former chief military aide to President Erdoğan. Nordic Monitor has published several reports on SADAT’s activities and goals in Turkey and abroad.