Friday, January 22, 2010

Engineer's Arrest Exposes US Pursuit of Iranians

Iran's Nuclear Sites, from NTI

In an earlier post I discussed my novel, The Lion and the Sun, which deals with nuclear smuggling and Iran's drive towards the development of nuclear weapons. The plot includes material about the illegal transfer of weapons technology. The following story by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, filed at 8:20 a.m. ET, January 22, 2010, details an actual case concerning such technology transfer. I have summarized it below.

PARIS (AP) -- The Iranian engineer flew to Paris with his wife, intending to see the Eiffel Tower and other tourist sites. Instead, he was arrested at the airport under a U.S. warrant -- suspected of evading export controls to buy U.S. technology for Iran's military.

The case of Majid Kakavand, accused of purchasing American electronics online and routing it to Iran via Malaysia, has shed light on increasing U.S. attempts to crack down on people outside American borders suspected of illegally buying U.S. supplies for Iran military programs.

The case is also pushing the justice system in France, which has grown increasingly tough on Iran's nuclear ambitions but also has trade and oil interests in the country, toward a stand that could have deep diplomatic and economic repercussions.

Kakavand's future could be decided at a Feb. 17 Paris hearing on whether to extradite him to the United States.

Iran's government spoke out about the case for the first time this week, accusing France of linking Kakavand's fate to that of a young French academic on trial in Iran. It says Kakavand is innocent and suggests he is being used as a bargaining chip in the diplomatic tug-of-war over 24-year-old Clotilde Reiss.

The United States says Kakavand, 37, and two colleagues ordered U.S. electronics -- including capacitors, inductors, resistors, sensors and connectors -- and had them shipped to Malaysia, from which they were dispatched to Iran without export licenses required by U.S. authorities.

Documents filed in the U.S. District Court in Northern California said they had set up a company called Evertop Services in Malaysia that dispatched the goods to its two main customers, Iran Electronics Industries and Iran Communication Industries.

Both companies ''were designated in 2008 by the United States for their role in Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile program,'' according to a summary of the case from the Department of Justice.

Kakavand is accused of conspiracy to export to an embargoed country, money laundering, smuggling goods and other counts.

Kakavand's lawyer acknowledges the company sold merchandise to the IEI and ICI, as they are known. But she denies he has any other ties to the Iranian military or nuclear industries. ''In trade, you purchase, you resell -- it's a normal trade act,'' lawyer Diane Francois said.

In many cases, suspects accused of violating the U.S. embargo on Iran have been apprehended in the United States. But some, including Kakavand and a man taken into custody in Germany last week, have been nabbed overseas. Kakavand has never set foot in the United States, his lawyer said -- all his U.S. business dealings were conducted via e-mail.

France under outspoken President Nicolas Sarkozy has helped lead Western efforts over the past two years to rein in Iran's nuclear program, which the U.S. and its allies suspect aims to produce weapons. Iran says the program is for peaceful energy production.

Iran released a list earlier this month of 11 Iranians it says are being held in the United States -- including a nuclear scientist who disappeared in Saudi Arabia and a former Defense Ministry official who vanished in Turkey.

The list also includes an Iranian arrested in Canada on charges of trying to obtain nuclear technology, as well as an Iranian who was arrested in the Caucasus nation of Georgia, handed over to the United States and convicted in a U.S. court in December on charges of plotting to ship sensitive U.S. military technology to Iran.


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