SEATTLE – A man arrested at the U.S.-Canada border last week is one of four people accused of conspiring to violate trade sanctions by sending technical equipment to Iran — some of which ended up with the Iranian military, a prosecutor said Tuesday.
Shahin Tabatabaei, of Vancouver, Canada, was arrested entering Washington state at Lynden, north of Seattle, on Friday, the FBI said. According to a federal indictment in California that has been under seal for the past two and a half years, he ran companies in Mexico and Canada that shipped American items through Turkey or the United Arab Emirates into Iran from 2007 to 2011.
The items appear to have had applications in the oil and gas industry, and the indictment suggests at least some had potential military uses. Assistant U.S. attorney Todd Greenberg told U.S. Magistrate Judge Mary Alice Theiler on Tuesday afternoon: "A number of the items went to the Iranian military. That is a national security concern."
Greenberg did not elaborate.
Prosecutors charge that Tabatabaei lied on paperwork by saying the items would not be transported to Iran or other countries where their export would violate American law.
A lawyer for Tabatabaei, Jesse Cantor, asked the court to release him pending further proceedings in federal court in Santa Ana, California. Given that Tabatabaei faces a standard sentencing range of just 10 to 16 months if convicted, he would have little reason to flee, Cantor said.
"He wants to be with his family; he wants to get this matter resolved," Cantor said.
The judge declined to release him, noting that if he decided not to show up for trial, the government's only option would be the cumbersome process of having him extradited. He will be transferred to California soon.
The other defendants were based in Canada and Iran. One, Seyed Mohammad Akhavan Fatemi, was identified as the owner of IRCA Group in Canada. The company's website describes it as a property developer based in Vancouver and lists its owner as Mohammad Fatemi.
Fatemi's son, Ehsan Fatemi, who also works at the company, told The Associated Press on Tuesday he did not believe the person listed in the indictment could be his father.
"If what you're saying is true, it's completely bogus," Ehsan Fatemi said. "I know what he does. I'm his son."
However, he acknowledged that a Shahin Tabatabaei who worked in "import-export" rented space in the company's office until about six or eight months ago.
The indictment remains under seal in federal court in California, but federal prosecutors in Seattle filed a copy in open court Monday in connection with Tabatabaei's arrest. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles said he could not discuss the case.
Tabatabei's companies were Grupocanamex and Canadian Industrial Solutions, the indictment said. Using false names and making false representations about the end-users of the products, it said, he ordered pressure transducers from a company in Leonia, New Jersey; thermal imagers from a company in Santa Clara, California; solenoid valves from a company in Montville, New Jersey; battery chargers from a company in Lake Forest, California; and gear-motors from a company in Dayton, Ohio. None of the companies was named in the court filing, and none is accused of wrongdoing.
A pressure transducer is a device that senses fluid pressure and converts it to an electrical signal. Solenoid valves are electromechanically controlled valves.
Payments for some of the items were funneled through Fatemi, who shipped the items to "unindicted coconspirators" in the United Arab Emirates after receiving them from Tabatabaei, the indictment alleged.
The other two defendants are Abbas Moradi, identified as the chairman of Iran-based Control Farayand Abzar Daghigh, and one of his employees, Amirreza Sahebjamei. Investigators allege they collected orders from other Iranian companies, transmitted those orders to Tabatabei and facilitated payments to Fatemi.
Some of the equipment was destined for the Bid Boland Gas Refinery in Iran, Moradi allegedly wrote in one email referenced in the indictment.
The sanctions against Iran have been eased since the U.N. certified that the country has met all its commitments to curb its nuclear activities under a historic agreement reached last summer. Greenberg argued in court that even under the eased sanctions regime, providing those items for the Iranian military would be prohibited.