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US Charges 16 for Illegal Shipments to Iran

U.S. prosecutors are charging eight foreigners and eight overseas businesses for helping to ship thousands of micro chips and other sensitive parts to Iran, in violation of U.S. trade bans. Officials say similar chips were found in improvised explosive devices in Iraq and Afghanistan. VOA's Brian Wagner has this report from Miami.

Prosecutors in Miami say the 16 defendants operated as middle men between buyers in Iran and suppliers or manufacturers of the parts inside the United States. They are accused of lying to suppliers to arrange for shipment of the parts to the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, Britain, Germany and Singapore, where they were then sent to Iran.

U.S. Attorney in Miami Alex Acosta said the illegal shipments included global positioning systems, a field communicator as well as thousands of micro-controller chips.

"Improvised explosive devices found by our allies in Iraq have the exact same chip with the exact same part number that the defendants are charged with illegally exporting," he said. "According to our indictment, they exported 12,000 of those chips."

Officials say the products are dual-use goods that can be used for civilian purposes as well as military ones, and their export is restricted especially to hostile nations and groups.

As a result of the probe, the Treasury Department named six Iranian military firms to a list of organizations linked to Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Officials say Iran often seeks to conceal its ties to foreign businesses in an effort to advance military programs in spite of international restrictions.

Adam Szubin, director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control says the Treasury listing aims to shut off foreign funding and trade with the firms.

"The six companies fall under Iran's military industrial complex. So they are in some ways act as companies, but they are certainly state-owned and controlled," he said.

At the same time, the Commerce Department announced sanctions on 76 other foreign entities linked to the investigation, for engaging in banned trade deals contrary to U.S. national security.

Under Secretary of Commerce Mario Mancuso said the restrictions on sensitive exports to Iran are crucial to discouraging the nation's weapons programs.

"Iran is a malign and lethal influence in the region. It is fastidious in its willingness and ability to cause mischief in the region and around the world. And it is a challenge we take very seriously," he said.

So far no arrests have been made in the case. Officials say they are seeking extradition of the eight individuals, many of whom are Iranian nationals operating in other countries, such as Germany, Malaysia or Dubai. If convicted, the defendants could face a maximum of 30 years in prison and $1 million in fines.