October 15, 2013: Strategy Page
A U.S. court recently sentenced two Singapore men to prison (for 34 and 37 months) after convicting them of illegally shipping American electronic items to Iran. This ended several years of investigations and legal proceedings. The case first became public in 2011 when American criminal investigators, in cooperation with their counterparts in Singapore tracked down and arrested five Singaporeans who had arranged for 6,000 American made radio frequency modules (RFMs) to be diverted to Iran. This was illegal, and was orchestrated by an Iranian citizen who was never arrested. Between 2008 and 2010 sixteen of these RFMs were found in unexploded roadside bombs in Iraq. It was eventually found that the RFMs, and other components of the bombs, had been smuggled into Iraq from Iran. Four companies were used to deceive American export controls so that the RFMs could be redirected to Iran. Singapore eventually agreed to extradite two of the men to the United States for prosecution. The other three were found not guilty (or not guilty enough) in Singapore.
The war on Iranian arms smuggling has been intensifying in the last decade. Most countries cooperate, but not all. While Turkey has been getting cozy with Iran, the Turks still enforce international trade sanctions against Iran. But as Turkey encourages its companies to do more business with Iran, there are more opportunities to smuggle forbidden goods to assist Iranian nuclear weapons and ballistic missile projects. Iran takes advantage of this whenever possible.
Germany was once a favorite place for Iran to buy equipment for their ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs but over five years ago the Germans began cracking down. For example, in 2008, a German citizen was prosecuted for running a weapons related smuggling operation. The defendant shipped 16 tons of high-grade graphite, used for making rocket nozzles, to Iran in 2005-7. The defendant mislabeled the graphite as low-grade, which was legal to sell to Iran. Another ten tons of the high-grade graphite was caught by Turkish customs officials. Germany adopted stricter export rules for Iran three years ago, and promptly began seeking out and prosecuting those who ignored the ban. This did not stop the Iranians from using Germany as a source of forbidden goods. In response Germany have been prosecuting people for exporting special metals and manufacturing equipment needed for ballistic missile warheads. All this slows down the Iranians but has not stopped them.
Ever since the U.S. embargo was imposed in 1979 (after Iran broke diplomatic protocol by seizing the American embassy), Iran has sought, with some success, to offer big money to smugglers who can beat the embargo and get needed industrial and military equipment. This is a risky business, and American and European prisons are full of Iranians, and other nationals, who tried and failed to procure forbidden goods. The smuggling operations are currently under more scrutiny, and attack, because of Iran's growing nuclear weapons program. But the Iranians simply offer more money, and more smugglers step up to keep the goodies coming.