ANKARA // Turkey has been holding for several days a cargo plane en route from the UAE to Iran after its crew refused to document its load, a customs ministry official said.
"The plane owned by a Turkish company had to make an emergency landing at Istanbul's Sabiha Gokcen airport due to technical reasons," the official said.
The official said that Turkish authorities would have the right to check the plane's cargo if the company refused to reveal the items on board.
"It is most probably carrying gold," he said.
An official from the Iranian Embassy in Ankara said they had not been informed by the Turkish foreign ministry of the grounding.
The incident comes amid indirect gold trade between Turkey and Iran, which is importing the Turkish gold in exchange for natural gas in an attempt to bypass western sanctions.
Turkey could have faced recession if it was not for the boom in exports, particularly in gold sales to Iran, the economy minister, Zafer Caglayan, said in December.
"Turkey ships 60 per cent of its gold to Iran and (the) rest to the United Arab Emirates and other countries. But we are not Iran's only market," the minister said.
Ankara is under severe pressure from its Western allies to reduce imports of natural gas from Iran owing to Tehran's disputed nuclear programme.
On November 30, the US Senate unanimously approved new economic sanctions aimed at further crippling Iran's energy, shipping and port sectors a year after the Congress passed tough restrictions against Tehran.
The latest US proposal is expected to sail through the US House of Representatives and be signed into law by Barack Obama, the president.
Iran's economy is struggling to cope with tightening sanctions imposed by the US and the European Union over the past two years.