US charges Dubai firms over illicit Iran exports

Washington indicts 16 individuals and companies for violating sanctions on technology with possible military uses.

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NEW YORK/DUBAI // Five Dubai-based companies are among 16 firms and individuals charged by the United States with exporting "dual use" items to Iran that could be used to make weapons and explosives. Eight individuals and eight companies based in Malaysia and Iran as well as Dubai have been accused of buying US-made goods and transporting them to Iran through countries including the UAE, Malaysia, England, Germany and Singapore.

A sealed indictment issued by a federal grand jury on the seventh anniversary of the September 11 attacks, unsealed late Wednesday, alleged there was a case to answer. Iran is subject to UN sanctions related primarily to material used in the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction, in addition to unilateral sanctions imposed by the United States, which prohibit the sale of most goods of US origin to the Islamic republic. The charges relate only to alleged violations of the unilateral US embargo.

Saeed al Marri, the deputy director of the Federal Customs Authority, said the UAE was committed to upholding sanctions imposed through the United Nations. "If there is a UN resolution regarding certain goods not going to Iran, we will uphold it," he said. The electronic items which the five UAE-based firms are accused of exporting to Iran are "dual use" products that could have civilian or military applications.

The US has previously accused Iran of using such items to manufacture the improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that have been responsible for the deaths of US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nasser Hashempour, the vice president of the Iranian Business Council in Dubai, said the historical business, cultural and family links between the GCC states and Iran meant the United States was seriously challenged in imposing unilateral sanctions in this region, especially on dual-use goods easily obtained by civilians.

"An individual can buy something from a supermarket here and take it to Iran," he said. "How can you stop that? It is untraceable. "The ties between Iranians and the Gulf countries are unbreakable. Unfortunately, in a very unprofessional way, the US has approached businessmen here and asked them not to trade with Iran, which I don't think would ever work in this region." In a separate development, the US Treasury said it would impose sanctions on six Iranian military companies because of their roles in Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.

"The US government is wielding a powerful array of authorities against Iran's proliferation supply chain," Adam Szubin, director of the US Treasury's foreign assets control office, said. "In concert with today's unsealed indictment against Iran's suppliers and middlemen, [the] Treasury is levying sanctions against Iranian military end-users that procured goods from those named in today's indictment."

The indictments came after a two-year investigation following a 2006 case involving the Dubai-based Mayrow General Trading, which the US accused of diverting controlled US goods to Iran that found their way into bombs used in Iraq. The company, which still has an address and phone number listed in Deira, could not be reached for comment yesterday. As well as Mayrow General Trading, the recently charged companies include Dubai-based Atlinx Electronics, Micatic General Trading, Madjico Micro Electronics and Al-Faris. Also charged were Neda Industrial Group, an Iran-based business, and Eco Biochem and Vast Solution of Malaysia.

The US is seeking the extradition of eight individuals currently overseas but authorities did not say if they had been arrested. They were Ali Akbar Yahya and Farshid Gillardian, both Iranian nationals who are naturalised British citizens; FN Yaghmaei, Bahman Ghandi and Ahmad Rahzad, all Iranian nationals; Kaam Chee Mun, a resident of Malaysia; Djamshid Nezhad, a resident of Germany, and Majid Seif, an Iranian national residing in Malaysia.

The US authorities are still investigating the case and have appealed to people with knowledge of the companies' activities or the individuals to contact them. Some of the charges against individuals, relating to violations of the Iran Trade Embargo, carry sentences of up to 20 years in prison.