BOSTON – A lawyer for a Chinese national who supplied Iran with U.S.-made devices that can be used to convert uranium for nuclear weapons is criticizing the U.S. government for dropping charges against his Iranian co-defendant as part of a breakthrough U.S.-Iran deal.
The criticism was leveled Wednesday during a sentencing hearing for Sihai Cheng, who pleaded guilty in December to supplying pressure transducers to an Iranian company. Cheng was sentenced to nine years in prison.
Cheng's lawyer, Stephen Weymouth, objected to the 15-year sentence recommended by prosecutors, calling it unfair because his Iranian co-defendant, Seyed Abolfazl Shahab Jamili, won't face prison time.
Weymouth called Jamili the "main actor" in the case and said he would have sought the dismissal of charges against Cheng if he had known prosecutors would drop charges against Jamili. Weymouth asked U.S. District Judge Patti Saris to force prosecutors to drop the charges or allow Cheng to withdraw his guilty plea.
"In this case, it has been outrageously unfair as far as Mr. Cheng is concerned," Weymouth said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Siegmann said the fact that prosecutors dismissed the indictment against Jamili — "someone we couldn't extradite anyway" — does not mean Cheng should be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea.
Siegmann said Cheng admitted he knew he was supplying parts to an Iranian company the U.S. had designated as a proliferator of weapons of mass destruction.
"It's clear that he's not innocent," she said.
Saris rejected the defense request, but said she may consider fairness among co-conspirators in sentencing Cheng.
As part of the deal announced earlier this month, four Americans detained in Iran were sent home and seven Iranians in U.S. custody won their freedom. The U.S. also dismissed charges against 14 Iranian nationals, including Jamili.
The other Iranians who had charges dropped include: Jalil Salami, a citizen of both the U.S. and Iran charged with using a company he owned in San Marcos, California, to purchase electronic test equipment and components from U.S. companies and arrange for them to be exported to Malaysia and then sent to Iran; Amin Ravan, indicted in Washington, D.C., for allegedly attempting to obtain military antennas for shipment to Iran; and Behrouz Dolatzadeh, charged in Phoenix, Arizona, with conspiring to purchase hundreds of M-4 assault rifles to export from the U.S. to Iran.
Prosecutors said Cheng set up shell companies in China to receive pressure-measuring sensors known as pressure transducers from the Shanghai subsidiary of MKS Instruments Inc., based in Andover, Massachusetts. The transducers have commercial applications, but are strictly controlled under federal law because they can be used in gas centrifuges to convert natural uranium into a form that can be used in nuclear weapons.
Cheng was accused of conspiring with Jamili to send hundreds of transducers to Eyvaz Technic Manufacturing Co., a Tehran company that has supplied parts for Iran's development of nuclear weapons.
Prosecutors said Jamili told Cheng that the Iranian end-user of the transducers was Kalaye Electronic Co., which the U.S. designated as a proliferator of weapons of mass destruction for its work with Iran's nuclear centrifuge program.
Prosecutors have said MKS sent the instruments to China without knowing they were to go to Iran.