Friday, May 26, 2006

Report: Missile Parts, 'Dual-Use' Materials Illegally Shipped to Iran Through Turkey

An Iranian-owned company, based in Turkey, has illegally shipped alleged guided missile parts as well as "dual use" nuclear-related material to Iran, including high-strength aluminum tubes, according to a recent Turkish government report obtained by The Associated Press on Friday. READ MORE

The company imported the material to Turkey, the supposed end-user, from dozens of firms around the world, including the United States, and then shipped them to Iran apparently after falsifying documents to hide the nature of the material, customs inspectors said in the report dated May 12.

Turkish authorities would not comment on the report, which was first published by Cumhuriyet and Milliyet newspapers Friday. A government official provided a copy of the report to the AP.

On Friday, Turkey hosted a multinational exercise to practice intercepting weapons materials before they reach a country like Iran, Turkey's neighbor. Warships from the United States, Turkey, France and Portugal participated in the maneuvers, said to be the largest so far of the Proliferation Security Initiative, or PSI, a program started in 2003 by U.S. President George W. Bush.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has credited PSI with several successes already in intercepting shipments of missile and nuclear technology headed to Iran, but she did not elaborate on details.

CountryWatch: Turkey

The reported Turkish crackdown on the activities of the Istanbul-based company Step Standard Technical Part has highlighted the importance of Friday's exercise, but also revealed the need to increase scrutiny of shipment of "dual-use" material which can either be used for civilian purpose or to make weapons. A sister company Multimat Import and Export was also involved.

The companies' Iranian owners denied that they had given guarantees to foreign companies that the end-user would be Turkey, the report said adding, however, that "their statement was not true." Company officials could not be reached for comment.

One particular sensitive shipment that reached Iran early this year contained aluminum tubes, which were of the proper size and material listed as "dual-use" material, the report said. Such equipment could possibly be used to construct centrifuges for uranium enrichment.

In another shipment, the companies bought from France an equipment called "gyros," which can be used to increase the sensitivity of the guidance system of missiles and directly transferred them to Iran in 2004, the report said.

"It is believed that the two companies have escaped from strict export controls by listing Turkey as the destination," the inspectors said. They said they have asked customs authorities in Germany, the Netherlands, Britain, France, the United States and Canada to launch investigations into shipments that originated from those countries.

Turkish authorities have also recently stopped a shipment of aluminum material to Iran at the last minute, seizing the material at Gurbulak border point with Iran.

The report said authorities have confiscated documents and computers from the companies and that the investigation was still underway. Most of the shipments to Iran by the companies included dual use material of aluminum, steel and iron products and electronic equipment which can be used in defense industry, it said.

The government report recommended that prosecutors file charges against three Iranians for smuggling and falsifying official documents, but it was not clear whether any of them were in custody. It also suggested the confiscation of the assets of both companies involved.

The U.S. and European Union accuse Iran of using its civilian nuclear program as a cover to produce nuclear weapons and want it to halt all enrichment-related activities. Tehran has denied the charges saying its nuclear program is geared toward generating electricity.

Uranium enriched to a low level is used to produce nuclear fuel. Enriched further it becomes suitable for use in a nuclear bomb.