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Contraband
01/13/2010

3 charged with smuggling technology to Iran

LOS ANGELES - Three men have been charged in a conspiracy to ship items from the United States to Iran, in violation of U.S. sanctions imposed on that country and the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA).

An indictment returned by a federal grand jury December 30, 2009, charges Jiraiir Avanessian, 56, of Glendale, Calif., and Farhoud Masoumian, 42, of Tehran, Iran, with multiple violations related to a conspiracy to violate IEEPA and the Iranian trade embargo, including smuggling, money laundering and other crimes. Avanessian was arrested Monday at his Glendale residence. An arrest warrant has been issued for Masoumian.

A third man, Amirhossein Sairafi, of Iran, was charged January 4 in a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court for his role in the scheme. Sairafi was arrested earlier this week in Frankfurt, Germany, by German law enforcement authorities based on a provisional arrest warrant from the United States.

The charges against the three men were announced Wednesday by the Acting U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles, George S. Cardona; the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI in Los Angeles, Steven M. Martinez; the Special Agent in Charge for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Los Angeles, Miguel Unzueta; and the Acting Special Agent in Charge of IRS - Criminal Investigation's Los Angeles Field Office, Linda K. Enders.

"One of ICE's top enforcement priorities is preventing sensitive technology from falling into the hands of those who might seek to harm America or its interests," said Assistant Secretary John Morton, who oversees U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). "The illicit trade of this kind of equipment to Iran or other countries that have repeatedly violated our export laws must be controlled. ICE will continue to aggressively pursue these criminals by working shoulder to shoulder with our law enforcement counterparts to combat this threat."

According to the indictment and the criminal complaint, Avanessian, who was born in Iran, is the owner and operator of XVAC, a company located in Glendale. Avanessian allegedly corresponded with Masoumian and Sairafi via e-mail for at least two years to arrange the export of high-dollar vacuum pumps and pump-related equipment to Iran through a free trade zone located in the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E).

According to IEEPA, U.S. persons are prohibited from exporting such technology to Iran without a license and without authorization from the Department of Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). Moreover, according to sanctions imposed by the United States - specifically, a trade embargo pursuant to the Iranian Transactions Regulations (ITR) - it is illegal to export or sell such technology to Iran or the government of Iran from the United States.

The indictment alleges that on multiple occasions Avanessian received orders for goods and various technologies sought by Masoumian on behalf of individuals in Iran. Avanessian allegedly purchased the goods and arranged to ship the goods to the U.A.E., making it appear that the U.A.E. was the ultimate destination. Sairafi would then send the same goods from the location in the U.A.E. to Iran.

As part of the conspiracy, Masoumian, Avanessian and Sairafi allegedly re-labeled the shipments to mask their true contents and avoid interception by U.S. customs officials. According to the indictment, Avanessian prepared air waybills in most cases indicating the shipments contained "spare parts" and no shipper's export declaration was needed because the commodity value was falsely undervalued at less than $2,500.

Throughout the conspiracy, Avanessian received several hundred thousand dollars that were deposited into his American bank account via international money transfers from Masoumian, according to the indictment.

"The FBI is responsible for preventing and investigating the illegal export of U.S. secrets to foreign countries, in violation of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and imposed sanctions," said Steven M. Martinez, assistant director in charge of the FBI in Los Angeles. "Agents in Los Angeles are committed to identifying and bringing to justice individuals intent on stealing this country's critical assets at the expense of America's security and the U.S. economy."

"The indictment of Mr. Avanessian and Mr. Masoumian, on charges including violations of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and international money laundering, demonstrates federal law enforcement's resolve to identify, investigate, and prosecute those individuals who are willing to trade in and profit from the sale of technical goods to embargoed countries," said Linda K. Enders, acting special agent in charge of IRS - Criminal Investigation's Los Angeles Field Office. "IRS-Criminal Investigation brings to bear the financial expertise that is critical in following the money that moves internationally to support these operations, further enabling the successful prosecution of those willing to violate the law and trade with embargoed countries."

Avanessian made his initial appearance in court in Los Angeles Monday and was ordered detained pending trial. If convicted on all counts, Avanessian and Masoumian face maximum sentences of 615 years and 525 in federal prison, respectively. An arrest warrant has been issued for Masoumian and agents are seeking his whereabouts. Sairafi is currently being held in the custody of German authorities.

This case, which is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California, is part an ongoing investigation by ICE, the FBI and IRS-CID. Agents with the Department of Commerce and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) provided substantial assistance. In addition, law enforcement authorities in Germany, as well as the FBI's Legal Attaché and ICE Attaché Office in Germany also aided with the investigation.