A legal and diplomatic drama involving export controls and Iran seems to be unfolding in France. According to various news sources last week, a French judge has ordered an investigation as to whether certain items are dual-use under French law. To folks outside of DC, “dual-use” items are usually those that may have both civilian and military uses. The U.S. items in question were reportedly shipped to Iran for use by the military in Iran’s “peaceful” nuclear program.
The case involves a Iranian national that U.S. authorities want extradited to the United States. The government alleges that Mr. Majid Kakavand, a French-Iranian engineer, made various Internet purchases from several U.S. companies in several states. In order to evade U.S. export control and sanctions laws, the government says that Kakavand sent the shipment from the U.S. to Malaysia then re-shipped it to Iran. You can read more about the case at the Export Law Blog.
According to the Associated Press, a “document supporting the U.S. extradition request argued that many items met military standards.” Of the items Kakavand allegedly purchased including capacitors, inductors, resistors, sensors and connectors, many could have been built to military specifications or “mil-spec”. However, just because an item is built to a certain mil-spec does not necessarily mean that it is automatically classified as a defense article or otherwise controlled for export (Tip: does not help).
No surprise, Kakavand’s lawyer is arguing that the items in question were not controlled for export, using legal buzzwords in her statement such as “No License Required” or NLR; however, even if that were true, there seems to be a lot more to this case than purchasing parts over the Internet. Is this a case of simple sanctions evasion? Who knows, but not likely.
While there is not enough in the public domain to know for certain, there is enough to conclude that this fellow was up to no good. His statements do not help his cause either. For example, he told the media: “If anybody can buy nuclear items on the Internet, (then) all the countries in the world will have nuclear weapons … by Internet and by simple e-mails, you cannot buy these (sensitive) items.” Ignorant? Naive? To cute by half?
The judge has ordered a military agency to ascertain whether the U.S.-made items in question are dual-use under French law. The French invest heavily in the Iranian market and do not have an embargo in place; however, they do have controls in place of dual-use technology, albeit not as stringent as U.S. controls. The findings of the review will be interesting.
The next hearing is scheduled for March 31, 2010.