AFP: An Iranian man has pleaded guilty to trafficking sensitive US weapons to the Islamic republic, part of what he believed were preparations for war between the two nations, US prosecutors said Wednesday.
By Andrew Beatty
WASHINGTON (AFP) — An Iranian man has pleaded guilty to trafficking sensitive US weapons to the Islamic republic, part of what he believed were preparations for war between the two nations, US prosecutors said Wednesday.
In a case unveiled for the first time on Wednesday, Delaware prosecutors said Amir Ardebili pleaded guilty in May 2008 to 14 counts of violating US arms control rules and will be sentenced later this month.
Following an international undercover operation, Ardebili was apprehended in an unnamed Central Asian country in October 2007 and extradited to United States, where he has been secretly detained since January 2008.
He was described by prosecutors as a "prolific" arms dealer, trafficking millions of dollars worth of components to his sole customer, the Iranian government.
"For years, the defendant was in the business of acquiring components, many with military applications, for the government of Iran," said US Attorney David Weiss.
"The government?s investigation and prosecution has put the defendant out of business and removed this threat to our national security."
Ardebili tried to acquire components for missile guidance systems and fighter aircraft as well as gyro chips, which are used in a range of military equipment, according to prosecutors.
Ardebili told undercover US operatives that he was purchasing "everything but the rubber tires" in preparation for a possible war between Iran and the United States, court documents unsealed Wednesday said.
"By his own admission Ardebili was assisting Iran in preparing for war with the United States," prosecutors alleged.
In reference to the Iranian government, Ardebili was quoted as telling undercover agents "they think the war is coming."
Based in Iran, Ardebili had been acquiring sensitive US equipment since at least 2004, and was lured out of Iran by US agents posing as arms traffickers.
In transcripts of exchanges with undercover agents, Ardebili is quoted as saying the arms were being bought for a subsidiary of the Iranian ministry of defense.
As the United States and Iran have locked horns over Iran's nuclear program, the two countries have also detained each other's nationals.
The United States has repeatedly asked for the release of three US hikers who were arrested after straying across the Iraqi border into Iran in July.
In October, Iran's state-owned Press TV quoted the country's foreign minister as naming Ardebili as one of several Iranian nationals who had been abducted by the US government.
Ardebili's case is just the latest in a series of US prosecutions over illicit arms sales to Iran.
In November, Belgian arms dealer Jacques Monsieur pled guilty to charges of conspiring to export fighter jet engines and parts to Iran.
He now faces up to five years in prison and a 250,000-dollar fine when he is sentenced on December 14.
In March, a 31-year-old woman was sentenced in Florida to at least five years in prison for illegally exporting night vision goggles to Iran.
Peter Crail, an Iran expert at the non-governmental Arms Control Association, said Ardebili's case fits a pattern of Iranian trafficking.
Noting that the UN Security Council imposed restrictions on major weapons sales to Iran in March 2007, Crail said Tehran has become increasingly reliant on the black market for such goods and technologies.
Even before the UN embargo, Iran faced US sanctions that have made it difficult to get legal parts for its ageing fleet of US-made F-14 Tomcat and F-5 jet fighters.
"They've also had a long-standing relationship importing weapons from North Korea which is under a UN arms embargo," Crail added.