Wall Street Journal: Federal prosecutors on Wednesday unsealed charges against alleged members of a global network procuring potentially sensitive electronic components for Iran — including some, they said, that were used to make deadly roadside bombs used against U.S. troops in Iraq.
The Wall Street Journal
Some Gear Was Used
In Roadside Bombs
By EVAN PEREZ
WASHINGTON — Federal prosecutors on Wednesday unsealed charges against alleged members of a global network procuring potentially sensitive electronic components for Iran — including some, they said, that were used to make deadly roadside bombs used against U.S. troops in Iraq.
The grand jury indictment, filed in U.S. District Court in Miami, charged eight companies and eight people, including Iranian, Malaysian and British nationals, with violating the U.S. embargo that restricts export of certain goods with dual commercial and military uses to Iran. All the individuals involved are believed to be residing outside the U.S., including in Britain and Dubai.
U.S. officials have warned for years that American-made equipment illegally exported to Iran could be aiding insurgents who kill U.S. soldiers in Iraq.
The equipment included hundreds of global-positioning-system devices and 12,000 Microchip micro-controllers. Prosecutors said the latter have been identified in so-called improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, used against U.S. forces in Iraq.
More than 1,700 U.S. deaths in Iraq have been blamed on IEDs, according to icasualties.org, a Web site that tracks war casualties. However, only a fraction of the IEDs used by militants are believed to come from Iran, U.S. officials have said.
U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta, of Miami, said potential military applications made the exported equipment particularly dangerous, and he urged U.S. companies that may have "unwittingly" helped export the components to contact prosecutors. "We cannot profit at the expense of our soldiers' safety abroad," he said in a statement.
Prosecutors said they will seek help from foreign governments to arrest and extradite individuals charged with having been involved with the scheme. In the meantime, U.S. companies are banned from doing business with the companies and individuals named in the federal indictment.
U.S. casualties caused by IEDs skyrocketed in 2005, prompting the U.S. Commerce Department and other agencies to launch an investigation aimed at stemming the flow of U.S.-made equipment used in the rudimentary bombs. One focus was on a patchwork of importers and freight-forwarding companies operating in busy ports such as Dubai and Singapore.
For years, U.S. officials have tried, with limited success, to pressure friendly countries in Europe, the Persian Gulf and Asia to help block sensitive exports passing through their ports to hostile countries like Iran and North Korea.
The Miami indictment named several companies, including Mayrow General Trading, Majidco Micro Electronics, and Micatic General Trading LLC. All of these operate out of Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Representatives of the companies couldn't immediately be reached for comment.
One example of how the export scheme worked, according to prosecutors, was a January 2004 order by Majidco of 7,500 microcontrollers made by Microchip Technology Inc., Chandler, Ariz. According to prosecutors, the order was placed with the Amsterdam office of Microchip Technology, which shipped it in February 2004. Three months later, Majidco allegedly then shipped the microcontrollers to an Iranian electronics firm, according to prosecutors.
Microchip Technology said it "is appalled by the use of our devices in such activities. Microchip has been and always will be compliant with the U.S. Department of Commerce shipping regulations regarding restricted countries, companies, and individuals."
Prosecutors said IEDs found in Iraq contained microprocessors with the same serial number as those shipped by the companies in the indictment.
Commerce officials on Wednesday also named 75 companies and individuals based in countries from China to Canada to the United Arab Emirates, that they allege have acted as fronts for Iranian importers and are now banned from doing business with U.S. companies.
Treasury officials on Wednesday announced sanctions against six Iranian military firms that they allege were part of Iran's nuclear and ballistic-missile programs. Under the sanctions, any financial firms or other companies that operate in the U.S. are banned from doing business with the listed companies.