Turkish charter firm fined $285k by US govnt for flights to Russia


Turkish charter operator Sapphire Havacilik San Ltd. STI has been fined $285,0000 by the US Department of Commerce to resolve alleged export violations following two private charter flights the company made to Russia in a US-made Gulfstream aircraft.

Revealing the penalty, Matthew S. Axelrod, from the department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) said: “We will not permit Russian oligarchs – or any Russian national, for that matter – to charter luxury jets into Russia.” 

The assistant secretary for export enforcement added: “It doesn’t matter if a Russian national uses another passport, like from Cyprus as was the case here. Let this serve as a lesson to charter brokers and operators worldwide: if you facilitate such travel in violation of our regulations, you may pay a steep price.”  

Based in Ankara, Turkey, Sapphire operated two private charter flights carrying Russian nationals in a Gulfstream IV jet without a mandatory BIS licence. According to the settlement, Sapphire used the aircraft in October 2023 to fly two Russian nationals from Istanbul to Tyumen, in the Siberia n region of Russia. In January 2024, the company used the same jet to fly one dual national of Russia and Cyprus from the Maldives to Moscow.

BIS also handed Sapphire a two-year suspension of its US export privileges. These will be restored provided the company satisfies the terms of its settlement with the department and pays the civil penalty by August 29th 2025.

In addition to businesss jet charters, Sapphire also offers air ambulance and helicopter services.

CJI has asked Sapphire for a response to its agreement with the Department of Commerce.


The Vedder Price view

 Here, David M. Hernandez, shareholder, Vedder Price explains the significance of this enforcement action.

CJI: What message does this send to the global aviation industry?

David Hernandez (DH): The message of the recent enforcement action is that there are serious penalties for violating US sanctions related to flights to Russia. However, such illegal flights are very common, and many operators simply ignore or are unaware of U.S. sanctions. 

Enforcement is the exception, rather than the norm. The US government likely does not have the resources to catch everyone. I will stress that sanction enforcement has been increasing precipitously with greater detection, assistance from service providers, manufacturers, and the public. I have been receiving a constant flow of calls from potential clients seeking assistance with manufacturer denial of services or from parties involved in a transaction in which the aircraft has been operated to Russia in violation of the US sanctions. 

It is also important to note that US escrow agents are asking if aircraft have been operated in Russia because escrow agents have no desire to deal with a sanctioned Aircraft.

CJI: Do you expect similar cases to follow? 

DH: Absolutely, the US is significantly increasing its efforts and resources to identify and prosecute sanctions evaders. 

CJI: If so, why?

DH: The enforcement actions will continue because of greed. The money is significant and desperate operators will do risky things for money. People don’t think they will get caught until they are caught, and then it’s too late.