Iran is using newly created front companies in a bid to frustrate U.S. and United Nations sanctions on its suspect nuclear programs, according to records and information supplied by a leading Iranian exile dissident group.
In two cases, Iranian authorities have simply changed the name and headquarters mailing address for companies recently targeted for sanctions by the U.S. Treasury and the U.N. Security Council. Both firms — the Pars Tarash Co. and the Farayand Technique Co. — are involved in the testing, production and storage of centrifuges needed to enrich uranium, a critical technical hurdle in the production of nuclear weapons.
The charges about the use of the new front companies were made by the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), which supports the overthrow of the regime in Tehran.
Council press spokesman Shahin Gobadi said the charges showed the futility of negotiations and compromise to get Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions.
"The mullahs will never give up on their quest to obtain a nuclear bomb," he said, calling for "comprehensive technological, weapons, diplomatic and oil sanctions" on Tehran.
The NCRI is the political arm of the People's Mojahedin, a secular Iranian umbrella group that broke violently with the Islamic leaders of the 1979 revolution shortly after the ouster of U.S.-backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
The opposition has played a checkered and at times contradictory role. Branded a terrorist organization by the United States and a number of European governments, the group has also proved to be the best single intelligence source on Iran's clandestine nuclear programs, exposing in recent years extensive research and testing sites inside the country unknown to U.S. and Western monitors.
The U.S. Treasury Department on Friday named both Pars Tarash and Farayand Technique in a new sanctions order, freezing any of their assets in the United States and banning any trade with U.S. firms and citizens.
The Treasury order noted that both companies had been cited in the U.N. Security Council sanctions order of December 2006.
Treasury Department spokeswoman Molly Millerwise said the department could not comment directly on the dissident group's claims, but said the U.S. government was aware of the problem of companies trying to hide their identity to avoid penalties.
"Designated entities often try to conceal their identities and reconstitute themselves under new names, and we aggressively investigate and act against those attempting to evade the sanctions," she said.
Treasury agents are specifically charged with tracking down aliases, front companies and other ruses, she added.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said U.S. and allied sanctions were already having a real impact on Iran's economy. He said U.S. officials were watching carefully for efforts by Tehran to evade the sanctions.
"I think it's widely known that they are pretty clever in setting up corporations and moving their money around," Mr. McCormack said.
In addition to U.S. sanctions, the U.N. Security Council has twice sanctioned Tehran over its nuclear programs and the just-concluded Group of Eight summit in Germany threatened new "appropriate measures" if Iran did not suspend its uranium enrichment efforts.
Iran insists all its nuclear programs are for peaceful civilian uses and has defied international demands that it stop.
"Using the tool of sanctions and imposing isolation by some powers who claim to be democratic will not have an impact on the firm will of the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to reach its obvious right," Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini told reporters over the weekend in Tehran.
In the Farayand case, according to the NCRI, Iranian officials simply renamed the firm the "Technology of Centrifuge of Iran Co.," relocating the headquarters to an office building in north Tehran. The name and address change came after a visit from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations' nuclear monitor.
The dissident group also said that Jafar Mohammadi, a senior Defense Ministry nuclear specialist, had recently been named to run the renamed firm.
Mr. Mohammadi was one of seven Iranians named in the December U.N. sanctions order, listed as a technical adviser to the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, which oversees all Iranian nuclear programs and reports directly to hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.