MOSCOW – The founder of a Russian company involved in trade with Iran has been charged with trying to smuggle a metal that can be used for weapons of mass destruction or delivery systems to the Islamic republic, prosecutors said Thursday.
The metal in question is tantalum, the Russian Prosecutor General's Office said. It can be used in the production of chemical processing equipment, nuclear reactors and missile parts, and is subject to export restrictions under Russian law.
Tantalum powder, a super-grade chemical, can also be used in the manufacture of mobile phones, personal computers, motor vehicles and electronics goods.
Prosecutors in southern Russia's Astrakhan region, across the Caspian Sea from Iran, have sent their case against Anar Godzhayev to court, the Prosecutor General's Office said in a statement. That means Godzhayev, a citizen of Uzbekistan, could face trial soon.
He and his lawyers were not immediately available to comment. Godzhayev is being held in Astrakhan.
Prosecutors claim Godzhayev lied about the contents of an outgoing shipment in customs documents after a business partner, in July 2007, asked him to send more than a ton of materials containing tantalum to Iran. He was detained after customs officials checked the shipment in a container on a boat due to leave for Iran.
Russia supports Iran's right to nuclear energy and is building the nation's first nuclear power plant.
While Russian leaders have said there is no evidence proving claims by the U.S. and other Western countries that Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons, Moscow is involved in international efforts to persuade Iran to ease those fears by abandoning uranium enrichment.
Russia has also questioned U.S. assessments of the potential threat from Iranian missiles.
But amid tense ties, Russia and the United States say they are cooperating well in efforts to thwart the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
Godzhayev could be sentenced to seven years in prison if convicted.