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Iranians acquiring Turkish citizenship as shield against US sanctions: report

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Iranians in Turkey are finding ways to sidestep laws in their home country to buy properties and get Turkish passports, hoping to protect their savings even as the United States ramps up sanctions on Iran, Reuters reported.

As they find ways around Iran’s money-transfer restrictions, the spike in home-buying has propelled Iranians to become Turkey’s second-largest foreign property buyers, behind only Iraqis.

Hundreds of professional Iranians have been forced to make “dodgy money transfers” simply to get by, said one former electrical shop owner who now helps his countrymen buy homes in İstanbul.

Washington’s policy of “maximum pressure” sanctions meant to cripple Iran’s economy and force concessions over its nuclear program have prompted Tehran to limit the foreign currency citizens can hold outside banks.

But that and other measures meant to support the Iranian rial have been widely disobeyed, analysts say, prompting the government to resort to bartering to keep the economy afloat.

After last year’s currency crisis tipped Turkey’s economy into recession, the Turkish government made it easier for foreign nationals to gain citizenship, slashing the property investment threshold to $250,000 from $1 million.

The lifetime passport offer, for foreigners who commit not to sell for at least three years, is meant to keep money flowing into an economy that was driven for years by a foreign-funded construction boom.

But for middle-class Iranians, property ownership presented an escape from difficulties back home and a safe haven from US sanctions, which Washington increased again two weeks ago by targeting Iran’s central bank.

The number of properties Iranians purchased in Turkey almost doubled in the first eight months of the year, according to official data. Adjusted for inflation, the residential property price index fell by 11.2 percent year-on-year in July.

The cheaper prices may have accelerated a shift in which Iranian home buyers are looking less at Western property markets, while Iranian companies are investing less in the Gulf.

Close to 1,000 foreigners have become Turkish citizens since September of last year, when Ankara lowered the investment threshold for citizenship, according to the state-owned Anadolu news agency. Over 250 of them were Iranians.

Despite the US sanctions, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said last week the country needs Iranian oil and natural gas and will continue buying it.

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