WASHINGTON — The feds in Los Angeles have busted three men in a suspected scheme to smuggle industrial components into Iran that could have been used to develop nuclear weapons, authorities announced Wednesday.
Iran’s development of nuclear weapons has been an ongoing concern of the U.S., Israel and many European nations. This latest bust seemed to highlight suspicions that the Iranians are still intent on developing these weapons.
The three men charged in the scheme included an Iranian born chemical engineer living in Glendale, Calif., according to the Los Angeles Times. The two other men were listed as Iranian residents, authorities said.
The men were working to ship “high-dollar vacuum pumps and pump related equipment to Iran” that could have been used for nuclear weapon development, authorities said.
Assistant Secretary John Morton of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued a statement Wednesday saying: “One of ICE’s top enforcement priorities is preventing sensitive technology from falling into the hands of those who might seek to harm America or its interests. This illicit trade of this kind of equipment to Iran or other countries that have repeatedly violated our export laws must be controlled.”
The case was investigated by the FBI, ICE and IRS.
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GLENDALE RESIDENT AND TWO IRANIAN MEN CHARGED WITH ILLEGALLY EXPORT ING TECHNOLOGY TO IRAN WITHOUT LICENSE
LOS ANGELES – Three men have been charged in a conspiracy to ship items from the United States to Iran, in violation of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) and in violation of U.S. sanctions imposed on the country of Iran.
An indictment returned by a federal grand jury on December 30 charges Jiraiir Avanessian, 56, of Glendale, California and Farhoud Masoumian, 42, of Tehran, Iran, with multiple violations related to a conspiracy to violate IEEPA and the Iranian trade embargo, including smuggling, money laundering and other crimes. Avanessian was arrested Monday, January 11, at his Glendale residence without incident. An arrest warrant has been issued for Masoumian.
A third man, Amirhossein Sairafi, of Iran, was charged January 4 in a criminal complaint filed in United States District Court for his role in the scheme to violate IEEPA and the Iranian trade embargo. Sairafi was arrested earlier this week in Frankfurt, Germany by German law enforcement authorities based on a provisional arrest warrant from the United States.
The charges against the three men were announced today by George S. Cardona, Acting United States Attorney in Los Angeles; Steven M. Martinez, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI in Los Angeles; Miguel Unzueta, Special Agent in Charge for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of Investigations in Los Angeles; and Linda K Enders, Acting Special Agent in Charge of IRS – Criminal Investigation’s Los Angeles Field Office.
According to the indictment and the criminal complaint, Avanessian, who was born in Iran, is the owner and operator of XVAC, a company located in Glendale, California. Avanessian allegedly corresponded with Masoumian and Sairafi via e-mail for at least two years to arrange the export of high-dollar vacuum pumps and pump-related equipment to Iran through a free trade zone located in the United Arab Emirates.
According to IEEPA, U.S. persons are prohibited from exporting such technology to Iran without a license and without authorization from the Department of Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). Moreover, according to sanctions imposed by the United States – specifically, a trade embargo pursuant to the Iranian Transactions Regulations (ITR) – it is illegal to export or sell such technology to Iran or the government of Iran from the United States.
The indictment alleges that on multiple occasions Avanessian received orders for goods and various technology sought by Masoumian on behalf of individuals in Iran. Avanessian allegedly purchased the goods and arranged to ship the goods to the United Arab Emirates, making it appear that the U.A.E. was the ultimate destination. Sairafi would then send the same goods from the location in the U.A.E. to Iran.
Avanessian falsely undervalued the shipments sent to the U.A.E. to reflect a value under $2,500, the threshold for filing requirements known as “shipper’s export declaration” forms, and in order to avoid greater scrutiny by Customs officials, according to the indictment.
As part of the conspiracy, Masoumian, Avanessian and Sairafi re-labeled the contents of the shipments in order to mask the true contents and to avoid interception by U.S. Customs officials. In most cases, according to the indictment, Avanessian prepared air waybills indicating his shipments contained “spare parts” and that no shipper’s export declaration was needed because the commodity value was under $2,500.
Throughout the conspiracy, Avanessian received several hundred thousands of dollars that were deposited into his American bank account via international money transfers from Masoumian, according to the indictment.
“The FBI is responsible for preventing and investigating the illegal export of U.S. secrets to foreign countries, in violation of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and imposed sanctions,” said Steven M. Martinez, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI in Los Angeles. “Agents in Los Angeles are committed to identifying and bringing to justice individuals intent on stealing this country’s critical assets at the expense of America’s security and the U.S. economy.”
Assistant Secretary John Morton, who oversees U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), stated: “One of ICE’s top enforcement priorities is preventing sensitive technology from falling into the hands of those who might seek to harm America or its interests. The illicit trade of this kind of equipment to Iran or other countries that have repeatedly violated our export laws must be controlled. ICE will continue to aggressively pursue these criminals by working shoulder to shoulder with our law enforcement counterparts to combat this threat.”
Linda K. Enders, Acting Special Agent in Charge of IRS – Criminal Investigation’s Los Angeles Field Office. “The indictment of Mr. Avanessian and Mr. Masoumian, on charges including violations of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and international money laundering, demonstrates federal law enforcement’s resolve to identify, investigate, and prosecute those individuals that are willing to trade in and profit from the sale of technical goods to embargoed countries. IRS-Criminal Investigation brings to bear the financial expertise that is critical in following the money that moves internationally to support these operations, further enabling the successful prosecution of those willing to violate the law and trade with embargoed countries.”
Avanessian was in court in Los Angeles Monday afternoon for his initial appearance before a U.S. Magistrate, who ordered that Avanessian be detained pending trial.
If convicted on all counts, Avanessian and Masoumian face statutory maximum sentences of 615 years and 525 in federal prison, respectively.
An indictment or criminal complaint contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.
An arrest warrant has been issued for Masoumian and federal agents are seeking his whereabouts. Sairafi is currently being held in the custody of German authorities.
This case is part an ongoing investigation by the FBI, IRS-CID and ICE, and will be prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles. Agents with the Department of Commerce and U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) provided assistance during the investigation. Outside the United States, law enforcement authorities in Germany, as well as the FBI’s Legal Attaché and the ICE Attaché Office in Germany, provided considerable assistance during this investigation.