Iran General NewsBritons named in plots to arm Iran

Britons named in plots to arm Iran


ImageThe Observer: A British businessman has been arrested after being named in a plot to supply Iran with weapons of mass destruction, while two more at the centre of an international manhunt are accused of smuggling military parts to Tehran.

The Observer

Mark Townsend, crime correspondent

ImageA British businessman has been arrested after being named in a plot to supply Iran with weapons of mass destruction, while two more at the centre of an international manhunt are accused of smuggling military parts to Tehran.

Farshi Gillardian, from Hendon in north London, was detained by Scotland Yard officers last week after being accused by the US authorities of attempting to supply weapons components illegally to Iran.

The other two British businessmen remain at large after allegedly supplying batteries for surface-to-air missiles and military aircraft parts to Tehran. Christopher Tappin vanished after leaving his Surrey freight company, while 77-year-old Brian Woodford, from Dorset, has fled to the Far East.

Gillardian, 39, is named in US court documents as being involved in a clandestine international network accused of supplying electronic parts for roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan and of helping Tehran to acquire weapons of mass destruction.

He faces an extradition hearing tomorrow at Westminster magistrates' court over claims that he tried to circumvent US trade sanctions with Iran, which is listed by US authorities as a state sponsor of terrorism and is subject to United Nations sanctions over its alleged nuclear weapons programme.

Emails held by the FBI indicate that Gillardian was in contact with a number of alleged co-conspirators in the US and Iran who are also being investigated by the American authorities.

Investigators believe the network traded in electronic parts identified in sophisticated roadside devices that have targeted coalition forces, including British troops, in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The FBI is also embroiled in attempts to apprehend Tappin and Woodford, whom it accuses of separately helping Tehran by smuggling military hardware. Tappin is accused of attempting to acquire batteries that power surface-to-air missiles, which he then intended to export to Iran.

A former director of a Surrey-based freight firm, Tappin sourced the batteries from an American firm before arranging to send them via the UK or the Netherlands to a Tehran-based company, according to an affidavit filed by undercover federal agents in a US district court. It reveals that the batteries were designed to power the Hawk missile system and that they require government approval for export. The document describes the batteries as 'significant military equipment'.

The deal is said to have been organised by Tappin last year from the offices of Brooklands International Freight Services, which is based in the Surrey village of South Nutfield. Tappin was a director of the company. Material from Tappin's computer files suggested that he may have made a number of previous shipments to Iran using a freight company in Amsterdam.

Another worldwide investigation continues into a British pensioner accused by the US Justice Department of attempting to supply Tehran with large quantities of military aircraft components. Brian Woodford, who owns a 17th-century manor house and 100-acre estate in Dorset, remains on the run after being accused of illegally exporting millions of pounds worth of US military and civilian aircraft parts to Iran.

The Observer has learnt that Woodford is in hiding in Singapore, where he is described as 'happy and healthy'. Family members say he is prepared to hide there indefinitely, having been told by lawyers that US authorities cannot extradite him as long as he commits no offence.

Woodford, whose property portfolio includes Chalmington Manor, near Dorchester, has been charged in his absence. He has not seen his 63-year-old wife, Laura, for six months since she was arrested in March on her arrival at San Francisco on a flight from Hong Kong. His wife was carrying two catalogues from a Chinese company described by the American prosecutors as a distributor of 'weapons of mass destruction'.

The catalogues included details of surface-to-air missile systems and rocket launchers. She was refused bail after a New York court hearing described her as a 'serious flight risk'.

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