WASHINGTON – An investigation into illegal weapons shipments to Iran led to searches of 18 American businesses that may have supplied a London-based company believed to be a front for the Iranian military (search), authorities said Thursday.
Agents with the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (search) and the Defense Criminal Investigative Service conducted the searches Wednesday, nearly a year after evidence implicating the firms was seized at the London offices of Multicore Ltd (search).
No charges or arrests were announced, but federal officials said the companies may have violated the Arms Export Control Act by supplying prohibited parts for Hawk missiles, F-14 Tomcat, F-4 Phantom and F-5 fighter aircraft, C-130 Hercules transport planes and military radar.
"The lives of American war-fighters can be placed at direct risk through illegal transfer of military components," said Joseph Schmitz, Defense Department inspector general.
The searches come at a time of increased international pressure on Iran to halt a suspected nuclear weapons program and a U.S.-led campaign to prevent weapons technology from reaching Iran. President Bush labeled Iran part of the "axis of evil" that included Iraq and North Korea, and U.S. officials say Iran has been harboring operatives of the al-Qaida terror network.
Multicore has been under investigation since February 1999, when agents first suspected that a subsidiary of the firm in Bakersfield, Calif., was involved in procuring F-14 parts for Iran. In December 2000, authorities seized thousands of aircraft and missile components at that facility.
Two officers at the California facility eventually pleaded guilty to arms exports violations: Saeed Homayouni, a naturalized Canadian citizen from Iran, and Malaysian citizen Yew Leng Fung.
That probe led to London, where British authorities in May 2002 searched Multicore offices and storage facilities and arrested Soroosh Homayouni, brother of Saeed, whose prosecution continues in Great Britain. Soroosh Homayouni was convicted in 1988 in New York of attempting to export radar parts, sentenced to 21 months in prison and then deported.
The U.S. companies were identified after U.S. and British officials examined Multicore parts, shipping documents and invoices in August 2002. U.S. officials believe more than 50 U.S. firms shipped components to Multicore.
A man who answered the phone listed in London as Multicore's, giving his name only as Alex, denied the company was involved in weapons shipments to Iran.
The U.S. search warrants were executed at businesses in Louisiana, Texas, New Hampshire, Colorado, New York, Oregon, Florida, Kansas, Wisconsin and South Carolina. Agents were seeking invoices, correspondence, computer records and other documents, according to court records.
Officials at several of the companies said Thursday they were not knowingly involved in any shipments to Iran, with some denying ever doing business with Multicore. Most said they were cooperating with the government investigation.
"We did nothing wrong," said Adam Minkoff, president of Jet Midwest Inc., a commercial airline parts distributor in Kansas City, Kan. "We applaud their efforts at doing their job to stop terrorism."
John Holt, operating director of Assorted Hardware in Wichita, Kan., said federal authorities seized photographs and paperwork when they searched the business Wednesday. Holt said the company had shipped a $125 dollar drainage plug to Multicore in 2001. Assorted Hardware did not know Multicore was a front company for supplying the Iranian military, Holt said.
"We love this good country and we're just as embarrassed as anybody else about this," said Holt, adding that he was stopping overseas shipments as a result of the revelation.
According to court documents, the other companies searched were Continental Industries, Hinsdale, N.H.; Assorted Hardware, Wichita, Kan.; Centerfield Pump Inc., Tomball, Texas; Jay Tex Inc., Mount Pleasant, Texas; Space Age Supply Inc., Crowley, Texas; Sunrise Helicopter, Spring, Texas; and Alamo Aircraft, San Antonio.
Also searched were Quintron Aircraft Parts, Waukesha, Wis.; DG Air Parts, Jacksonville, Ore.; Talon Aviation, Lake Charles, La.; Orion International, Charleston, S.C.; Aerospace Technologies International, Boulder, Colo.; Instrument Support Inc., Holbrook, N.Y.; Instrument Associates, Port Washington, N.Y.; Harry Krantz Co., Garden City Park, N.Y.; Island Components Group, Bohemia, N.Y.; and Brandex Corp., Sunrise, Fla.
U.S. authorities this year have disrupted a number of illegal arms and technology transfers, including attempts to send howitzer, radar and unmanned aerial drone parts to Pakistan; assault weapons bound for Colombia; military aircraft and engines to Libya; and satellite technology to China.
Michael J. Garcia, acting assistant secretary of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said that "keeping sensitive U.S. military technology from falling into the wrong hands is one of the most important missions" of the agency.