- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 1, 2011

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. authorities announced Tuesday that they have charged an Iranian businessman who they say acted as a “lifeline” to his country’s missile program by smuggling metals and other vital materials from the United States in violation of a trade embargo.

The Justice Department said 36-year-old Milad Jafari is at large and believed to be in Iran. He was secretly charged with conspiracy, illegal export and smuggling last July and the 11-count indictment was unsealed Tuesday.

Federal officials said Mr. Jafari ran businesses in Istanbul and Tehran that would buy metals like steel and aluminum alloy from U.S. companies and export them through Turkey to hide their true destination, since exports to Iran are prohibited without authorization from the Treasury Department. The Treasury Department said that between 2007 and late 2008, Mr. Jafari’s network facilitated more than $7 million in transactions for subordinates of Iran’s Aerospace Industries Organization (AIO).

The Treasury Department described a family procurement business run by Mr. Jafari; his father Mohammad Javad Jafari; and brother, Mani Jafari; with his mother, Mahin Falsafi, handling the network’s bank accounts. Mr. Jafari’s Turkish associates, Muammer Kuntay Duransoy and Cagri Duransoy, helped with the transactions, Treasury said.

The Treasury Department on Tuesday designated the six individuals and five companies in the Jafari network as proliferators of weapons of mass destruction which freezes their assets in the United States in an attempt to isolate them from doing further business in this country.

“The Jafari network has established itself as a lifeline for Iran’s missile program by providing essential materials and support for AIO,” said Stuart Levey, Treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.

The indictment said that in July 2006 Sanam Industrial Group, a subordinate of the AIO that has been sanctioned by the United States and United Nations for involvement in nuclear and ballistic missile activities, had requested that Mr. Jafari’s company get a quote for 660 pounds of specialized steel welding wire. Less than a year later, Mr. Jafari’s company paid a Nevada company $38,000 for that exact order while assuring the company that the wire would not be exported from Turkey or used for nuclear or ballistic weapons-related applications, the indictment said.

The charging documents also said that in 2007, Mr. Jafari’s company ordered 4,410 pounds of high-grade, temperature-resistant stainless steel used in aerospace applications from an Ohio company, assuring the seller that it would not be shipped to Iran. The indictment said that a year earlier, Heavy Metals Industries in Iran placed an order with Mr. Jafari’s company for 3,410 pounds of precipitation hardening steel.

Both shipments were detained by the Department of Commerce’s Office of Export Enforcement before they left the United States.

But the indictment said Mr. Jafari and his associates were able to get several other shipments of other materials to Iran via Turkey. Those shipments included 1,366 pounds of commercial bronze bars from Texas, electronic testing equipment from Illinois and 6.6 pounds of custom-made brazing alloy from a California company. The indictment also noted that Mr. Jafari arranged to export fiber-optic equipment from Pennsylvania and aerosol generators from Minnesota.

The indictment sought forfeiture of $177,867.92 in connection with Mr. Jafari’s purported crimes.

“Shutting down the illegal acquisition of material destined for use in weapons programs is among the highest priorities in the FBI,” said Sean Joyce, executive assistant director of the FBI’s National Security Branch that investigated the case. “We’ll continue to pursue illegal acquisition efforts and protect our nation from the grave threat these WMD-related activities pose to our national security.”