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Iran Faces Nuclear Smuggling Charges

February 2, 2011

The Wall Street Journal, 2 Feb 2011: U.S. authorities disclosed charges and sanctions against operators of an alleged smuggling network that was accused of purchasing millions of dollars in equipment for Iran’s nuclear and missile programs.

U.S. and Turkish intelligence agencies have spent years probing what U.S. officials say are sanctions-busting front companies for Iran’s Aerospace Industries Organization, which oversees that nation’s missile program.

The companies imported materials and equipment to Turkey from Europe and the U.S., taking advantage of more lenient export rules that apply to Turkey as a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, according to U.S. officials.

David Kris, assistant attorney general for national security, said Tuesday that the years-long probe showed “the reach of Iran’s illegal procurement networks,” which obtained materials and equipment from multiple U.S. companies and from sources in Italy, Hungary and elsewhere.

The imports included specialized steel welding wire that has aerospace uses from a Nevada company, fiber-optic equipment from Pennsylvania, and high-grade alloys from a California manufacturer, according to an indictment filed by U.S. prosecutors. The U.S. companies weren’t named in the indictment.

Turkish investigators previously said an Istanbul company in the network imported aluminum containers from Italy that could be used in uranium enrichment.

International sanctions prohibit the export of many types of dual-use equipment to Iran, for fear that they would be used to advance nuclear enrichment or ballistic missile programs. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

On Tuesday, Justice Department prosecutors announced charges against Milad Jafari, an Iranian national who they allege led the Iranian procurement network.

The Treasury Department separately announced sanctions aimed at freezing assets belonging to Mr. Jafari, several family members and associates and companies they operated. The action accuses members of the network of being proliferators of weapons of mass destruction.

“The Jafari network has established itself as a lifeline for Iran’s missile program,” said Stuart Levey, Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.

Turkish prosecutors previously have filed charges against Mr. Jafari and members of his family who helped to operate his companies, accusing them of smuggling violations.

Mr. Jafari is believed to be in Iran and beyond the reach of U.S. law enforcement. He couldn’t be located to comment.

According to an indictment filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, the companies acted as middlemen, matching orders from Iranian missile agencies with sources of high-grade equipment.

The indictment was filed in July 2010 and was unsealed by a federal judge on Tuesday after the U.S. Treasury announced sanctions.

The U.S. actions against the Jafari network come as U.S. officials express concern that Turkey, which has sought to increase trade with Iran, could be used as a waystation for illicit imports.

A U.S. official cited Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s call in September for trade with Iran to increase fivefold.

The Jafari case came partly as a result of cooperation between U.S. and Turkish officials. The Turkish customs agency in 2005 reported seizing specialized equipment at a border crossing with Iran.

The Central Intelligence Agency and Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization investigated and uncovered a bigger network, according to U.S. officials. At least some of the equipment made it to Iran, while other shipments were stopped, U.S. officials said.


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