Iran General NewsGermany charges two over Iran equipment deal

Germany charges two over Iran equipment deal

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ImageWall Street Journal: Federal prosecutors in Germany have charged two men with delivering to Iran embargoed tools that were intended to build missiles capable of carrying a nuclear payload. The Wall Street Journal

By DAVID CRAWFORD

ImageBERLIN—Federal prosecutors in Germany have charged two men with delivering to Iran embargoed tools that were intended to build missiles capable of carrying a nuclear payload.

A spokesman for the German federal prosecutors' office said Wednesday that a 52-year-old Iranian businessman, whom authorities identified only as "Mohsen A.", and a 49-year-old engineer with dual Iranian and German citizenship, whom prosecutors called "Behzad S.," were charged with violating Germany's export-control law.

The pair allegedly delivered a vacuum sintering oven to Iran in July 2007. Such an oven can be used to harden rocket parts to withstand the heat of rocket launch and re-entry.

Word of the indictments comes amid growing concern in Washington and other capitals that Iran has managed to substantially advance its nuclear-weapons program in recent years by using a network of middlemen to carry out illicit purchases of nuclear equipment in other countries. In compliance with United Nations sanctions against Iran, Germany prohibits the unlicensed export of such equipment to the country.

The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday that the International Atomic Energy Agency is investigating a case involving the suspected shipment of dual-use valves to Iran in violation of U.N. sanctions. The valves can be used to enrich nuclear fuel, a key step in making a nuclear bomb.

In a February report on Iran's nuclear program, which Tehran insists is peaceful, the IAEA said it is investigating evidence that Iran is developing rockets capable of carrying nuclear payloads. Iran denies the allegations.

The sintering oven at the center of the German case is valued at about €850,000 ($1.1 million) and falls under an export embargo because it is a dual-use device—one that can be used for both civilian and military purposes.

The oven was delivered to a machine-tool company in Tehran that Mr. A. founded in the mid-1990s, according to the spokesman for the prosecutors' office, who is himself a prosecutor. Mr. A. was never able to use the oven because its German manufacturer recalled technicians it had sent to Tehran to complete the installation, the prosecution spokesman said. The German manufacturer refused to complete the installation after learning that the oven would be used by a company linked to Iran's missile program, the prosecution spokesman said. He declined to name the manufacturer or to provide the full names of the suspects. It is common practice in Germany for prosecutors to withhold the names of suspects in criminal cases.

The prosecution spokesman said the two suspects knew at the time of the purchase that the equipment in question would be used to build long- or medium-range missiles.

Neither Mr. A. nor Mr. S. could be reached for comment.

A spokesman for the Iranian Embassy in Berlin, Heidar Zadeh, said the indictment is based on a misunderstanding, because the vacuum sintering oven was intended for use by an Iranian ceramics firm. "This was not a dual-use item," Mr. Zadeh said, adding that the two men are private businessmen, not Iranian government employees.

Mr. Zadeh said the Iranian embassy in Berlin is observing several criminal investigations in Germany of Iranian citizens suspected of illegally exporting military or dual-use equipment to Iran. The suspects accused of violating Germany's export laws "rarely work for the Iranian government," Mr. Zadeh said.

The prosecution spokesman said his office is investigating or prosecuting several alleged cases of illegal exports of sensitive equipment to Iran. The cases are similar, he said, but each case must be investigated and, if justified, tried separately.

German prosecutors also are investigating a separate allegation that Mr. S. and Mr. A. planned to ship a second vacuum sintering oven to Iran in 2008 via a shell company registered in an unnamed Asian country. No charges have been filed so far based on the second investigation, the prosecution spokesman said.

The maximum penalty in Germany for illegal exports is 15 years imprisonment, the prosecution spokesman said. Mr. S. and Mr. A. were arrested in October 2009. Mr. A. is being held in pretrial detention. Mr. S. has been released while awaiting trial, the prosecution spokesman said.

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