Iran General NewsCompany linked to Norman Lamont fined over Iran exports

Company linked to Norman Lamont fined over Iran exports

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ImageThe Times: A British company linked to a senior Conservative peer has agreed to pay one of the largest fines imposed over illegal exports to Iran in breach of US sanctions. The Times

David Brown

ImageA British company linked to a senior Conservative peer has agreed to pay one of the largest fines imposed over illegal exports to Iran in breach of US sanctions.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick, Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1990-93, is a non-executive director at Balli Group, which has agreed to pay $15 million (£10 million) over the sale of Boeing 747s.

The company, owned by an Iranian family, agreed to the civil penalty after a "subsidiary", as US authorities described it, admitted breaking sanctions. Balli Aviation Ltd pleaded guilty last week to two criminal charges of illegally exporting jumbo jets.

The company, based in Mayfair, Central London, agreed to pay a $2 million fine under a plea bargain with the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security. The company and Balli Group also agreed with the US Departments of Commerce and Treasury to pay a $15 million “civil penalty”, of which $2 million has been suspended.

Lord Lamont, 68, now a policy adviser to David Cameron and chairman of the British Iranian Chamber of Commerce, was appointed a non-executive director of Balli Group in 1995. The peer runs some parliamentary and business affairs from an office at the company’s headquarters, which is also the registered address of Balli Aviation. Balli Aviation was accused of conspiring to export three 747s from the US to Iran without obtaining US export licences between October 2005 and October 2008.

It is alleged to have told US authorities that the aircraft had been leased to Blue Airways and would be located in Armenia. Investigators claimed that the aircraft were being operated by Mahan Airways, an Iranian airline. The company was also accused of “wilfully violating” an explicit ban on exports between March and August 2008 after it allegedly planned to divert three other jets to Mahan Airways.

Thomas Madigan, acting deputy assistant secretary of commerce for export enforcement, said: “The significant fine is a direct consequence of the level of deception used to mislead investigators.”

Balli Aviation said in a statement: “The settlement does not suggest that Balli Aviation sold, or intended to sell, these aircraft to Blue Airways or Mahan in breach of US sanctions. No directors, officers or employees of Balli Aviation, or any of its affiliates, have been found guilty of any crime, assumed personal liability or found to be in breach of the US laws pursuant to this settlement.”

Balli Group was founded by Vahid Alaghband, whose family lost most of its assets in the 1979 Iran Revolution. He set up the company in 1980 with $200,000 from relatives. His brothers, Hassan and Nasser, are also directors of the company, whose most recent accounts showed a turnover of $1.4 billion from international commodity trading.

There is no suggestion that Balli Aviation breached British or EU sanctions against Iran, which are limited to materials that have a possible military use. There are no restrictions on commerce in civil aviation with Iran.

A spokesman for Lord Lamont said that the peer had no knowledge of Balli Aviation’s activities in Iran, the company was not a subsidiary of Balli Group, and that the peer “is not and has never been a director or officer of Balli Aviation and has not been involved at any stage with its business. Balli Group plc is not and has never been a party to criminal proceedings or a criminal plea with the US Department of Justice. Balli Group has not admitted to any allegations of wrong-doing in connection with its civil settlement with the US Departments of Commerce or Treasury.”

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