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Parts sent to Iran could be used for nuclear weapons; 3 charged in alleged plot

January 13, 2010 |  6:54 pm

Three men, including an Iranian-born chemical engineer living in Glendale, have been charged in a scheme to smuggle sophisticated industrial components into Iran that could be used in the development of a nuclear weapon, authorities said Wednesday.

The case has drawn interest at the highest levels of government, an official with Immigration and Customs Enforcement told The Times. The charges come as the U.S. is rallying allies to block Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Authorities allege that the men were attempting to smuggle high-grade vacuum pumps and other items into Iran in violation of federal trade laws and U.S. sanctions against the country. Investigators’ suspicions were heightened by the great lengths to which the defendants went to hide their alleged activities.

“These were educated men,” said Louis Rodi, a top supervisor in the Los Angeles ICE office. “These individuals knew what they were doing.”

According to an indictment filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, Jiraiir Avanessian, 56, of Glendale was paid several hundred thousand dollars to ship “high dollar vacuum pumps and pump related” equipment to Iran.

The parts, which were mislabeled and significantly devalued on shipping manifests, were initially sent to the United Arab Emirates, making it appear that was their final destination, federal authorities said. But a co-defendant would then forward the items to a third defendant in Tehran, according to court papers.

Rodi stressed that investigators have no proof about what the devices were ultimately going to be used for, but said that he had been briefed on their potential uses and that they included “development of nuclear capabilities.” 

--Scott Glover