The Trump Justice Department on Tuesday announced the extradition of an Iranian national who was caught smuggling materials that can be used to enrich uranium from the United States to Iran.
Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers, U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman for the Southern District of New York, Assistant Director John Brown of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division and Assistant Director in Charge William F. Sweeney Jr. of the FBI’s New York Field Office unsealed today a three-count indictment charging three Iranian citizens, Behzad Pourghannad, 65, Ali Reza Shokri, 61, and Farzin Faridmanesh, 48, with exporting carbon fiber from the U.S. to Iran.
They are each charged with “one count of conspiracy to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, and two counts of violation and attempted violation of IEEPA, each of which also carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.”
Behzad was arrested in Germany on May 3, 2017, and arrived in the Southern District of New York on Monday. He was presented in White Plains federal court before U.S. Magistrate Judge Judith C. McCarthy on Tuesday. His co-conspirators Shokri and Faridmanesh remain at large, according to to the DOJ.
“Pourghannad is alleged to have sought to procure for Iran large amounts of carbon fiber—a commodity that can be used in the enrichment of uranium,” Assistant Attorney General Demers said in a statement. “U.S. sanctions exist to prevent behavior, like this, which endangers our country, and the Department is committed to vigorously enforcing them. Pourghannad and others who would attempt to thwart these laws need to know that their actions, which benefit Iran’s destabilizing efforts and make Americans less safe, will not go unpunished.”
U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a statement: “Carbon fiber has many aerospace and defense applications, and is strictly controlled to ensure that it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. Pourghannad and his co-defendants allegedly went to great lengths to circumvent these controls and the United States’ export laws. Together with our law enforcement partners, we will continue to protect our nation’s assets and protect our national security.”
FBI officials stressed that the bureau has made capturing those who violate sanctions against Iran a high priority.
“This case shows the FBI aggressively pursues those who break the law and violate sanctions against Iran,” FBI Assistant Director John Brown said. “Iran remains determined to acquire U.S. technology with military applications, and the FBI is just as determined to stop such illegal activity,” Brown added. “The charges against these three Iranian nationals, and the extradition of Mr. Pourghannad, demonstrate we take Iran’s actions extremely seriously and will work with our partners to defeat them.”
“If you aid Iran in its efforts, you will be held accountable,” FBI Assistant Director in Charge William Sweeney said in a statement.
The plot to illegally export the carbon fiber from the U.S. began in 2008 and continued into 2013, according to the Justice Department.
Between 2008 and July 2013, Pourghannad, Shokri and Faridmanesh lived and worked in Iran. During that period, they worked together to obtain carbon fiber from the U.S. and surreptitiously export it to Iran via third countries. In particular, Shokri worked to procure many tons of carbon fiber from the U.S.; Pourghannad agreed to serve as the financial guarantor for large carbon fiber transactions; and Faridmanesh agreed to serve as the trans-shipper. Carbon fiber has a wide variety of uses, including in missiles, aerospace engineering, and gas centrifuges that enrich uranium.
In late 2007 and early 2008, Shokri and a Turkey-based co-conspirator (CC-2) successfully arranged for the illegal export and trans-shipment of carbon fiber from the U.S. to an Iranian company associated with Shokri (Iranian Company-1). Specifically, CC-2 contacted a U.S. supplier of carbon fiber, who in turn enlisted a third individual (Individual-1) for assistance with the transaction. Through Individual-1, CC-2 purchased carbon fiber from the U.S. supplier and arranged for the shipment of the carbon fiber from the U.S., through Europe and Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to Iranian Company-1, operated by Shokri, in Iran.
In May 2009, Pourghannad and Shokri attempted to arrange another illegal purchase and trans-shipment of carbon fiber from the U.S. to Iran. Specifically, Individual-1 returned a signed contract to Pourghannad for Shokri’s purchase of a large quantity of carbon fiber. Individual-1 then purchased the carbon fiber from a U.S. supplier and arranged for the carbon fiber to be exported from the U.S. to a third country (Country-1), en route to Iran. Country-1 authorities, however, interdicted the carbon fiber shipment before it could be trans-shipped to Iran.
In 2013, Pourghannad, Shokri, and Faridmanesh again attempted to illegally procure and export carbon fiber from the U.S. to Iran. In the 2013 transaction, Shokri and Pourghannad negotiated with Individual-1 for the purchase and trans-shipment to Iran of more than 5 tons of carbon fiber. Faridmanesh and Pourghannad further agreed with Individual-1 that the carbon fiber would be trans-shipped from the U.S. to Iran through Tbilisi, Georgia, with Faridmanesh to serve as the trans-shipper. Faridmanesh specifically instructed Individual-1 to change the shipping labels on the carbon fiber to reference “acrylic” or “polyester,” rather than “carbon fiber.”
Pourghannad provided Individual-1 with the bank guarantee that was to serve as surety for a portion of the carbon fiber. In June 2013, Individual-1 informed Pourghannad, Shokri, and Faridmanesh that the carbon fiber would soon be shipped from Manhattan and that Individual-1 would replace the carbon fiber labels with shipping labels referencing “acrylic” to evade U.S. export controls.
No one involved in the above transactions “obtained permission from the U.S. Department of Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control, to export the carbon fiber from the U.S.,” according to the DOJ.
President Trump last week warned that U.S. sanctions on Iran would be increased “substantially” soon after Tehran announced it had exceeded a limit on enriched uranium reserves under the abandoned 2015 nuclear deal.
(Photo credit: ALI KAVEH/AFP/Getty Images)