WASHINGTON — Five individuals and four of their companies have been indicted as part of a conspiracy to defraud the United States that allegedly caused thousands of radio frequency modules to be illegally exported from the United States to Iran. At least 16 of those items were later found in unexploded improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Iraq. Some of the defendants are also charged in a fraud conspiracy involving exports of military antennas to Singapore and Hong Kong.
Yesterday, authorities in Singapore arrested Wong Yuh Lan (Wong), Lim Yong Nam (Nam), Lim Kow Seng (Seng), and Hia Soo Gan Benson (Hia), all citizens of Singapore, in connection with a United States request for extradition. The United States is seeking their extradition to stand trial in the District of Columbia. The remaining individual defendant, Hossein Larijani, is a citizen and resident of Iran who remains at large.
The arrests and the indictment were announced by John Morton, director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE); Lisa Monaco, assistant attorney general for national security; Ronald C. Machen Jr., U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia; Mark Giuliano, executive assistant director of the FBI's National Security Branch; Eric L. Hirschhorn, under secretary of commerce; and David Adelman, U.S. ambassador to Singapore.
"One of Homeland Security Investigations' (HSI) top enforcement priorities is preventing sensitive technology from falling into the hands of those who might seek to harm American personnel or interests whether at home or abroad," said ICE Director Morton. "This international investigation conducted by ICE's HSI and our law enforcement partners demonstrates the importance of preventing U.S. technology from falling into the wrong hands, where it could potentially be used to kill or injure our military members and our allies. Our agency will continue to work closely through our attachés to identify these criminals, dismantle their networks, and ensure they are fully prosecuted."
"Today's charges allege that the defendants conspired to defraud the United States and defeat our export controls by sending U.S.-origin components to Iran rather than to their stated final destination of Singapore. Ultimately, several of these components were found in unexploded improvised explosive devices in Iraq," said Assistant Attorney General Monaco. "This case underscores the continuing threat posed by Iranian procurement networks seeking to obtain U.S. technology through fraud and the importance of safeguarding that technology. I applaud the many agents, analysts and prosecutors who worked on this extensive investigation."
"These defendants misled U.S. companies in buying parts that they shipped to Iran and that ended up in IEDs on the battlefield in Iraq," said U.S. Attorney Machen. "This prosecution demonstrates why the U.S. Attorney's Office takes cases involving misrepresentations regarding the intended use of sensitive technology so seriously. We hope for a swift response from Singapore to our request for extradition."
"This multi-year investigation highlights that acquiring property by deceit has ramifications that resonate beyond the bottom line and affects our national security and the safety of Americans worldwide," said FBI Executive Assistant Director Giuliano. "We continue to work side-by-side with our many partners in a coordinated effort to bring justice to those who have sought to harm Americans. We consider this investigation as the model of how we work cases - jointly with the Department of Homeland Security/Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Department of Commerce/Office of Export Enforcement and collectively with our foreign partners to address the threats posed by Iranian procurement networks to the national security interests of the United States both here and abroad."
"These cases are the product of vigorous, cooperative law enforcement focused on denying to Iran items that endanger our coalition forces on the battlefield in Iraq," said Under Secretary of Commerce Hirschhorn. "We will continue aggressively to go after such perpetrators -- no matter where they operate -- to guard against these types of threats."
U.S. Ambassador to Singapore, David Adelman, praised the cooperation within the U.S. executive branch agencies and with the Singaporean authorities. "Twenty-first century law enforcement is most effective when countries work collaboratively as evidenced by this strong, cooperative effort between the U.S. and Singapore. Congratulations to all the officials in both our countries who made this happen," he said.
The indictment, which was returned in the District of Columbia on Sept. 15, 2010, and unsealed today, includes charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States, smuggling, illegal export of goods from the United States to Iran, illegal export of defense articles from the United States, false statements and obstruction of justice.
The charged defendants are Iranian national Larijani, 47, and his companies Paya Electronics Complex, based in Iran, and Opto Electronics Pte, Ltd., based in Singapore. Also charged is Wong, 39, an agent of Opto Electronics who was allegedly supervised by Larijani from Iran. The indictment also charges NEL Electronics Pte. Ltd., a company in Singapore, along with NEL's owner and director, Nam, 37. Finally, the indictment charges Corezing International Pte. Ltd., a company in Singapore that maintained offices in China, as well as Seng, 42, an agent of Corezing, and Hia, 44, a manager, director and agent of Corezing.
Wong, Nam, Seng and Hia allegedly conspired to defraud the United States by impeding U.S. export controls relating to the shipment of 6,000 radio frequency modules from a Minnesota company through Singapore to Iran, some of which were later found in unexploded IEDs in Iraq. Seng and Hia are also accused of conspiring to defraud the United States relating to the shipment of military antennas from a Massachusetts company to Singapore and Hong Kong. Singapore has agreed to seek extradition for Wong and Nam on the charge of conspiracy to defraud the United States relating to the components shipped to Iran, and to seek extradition for Seng and Hia on the charge of conspiracy to defraud the United States relating to the military antenna exports.
In coordination with the criminal actions announced today, the Commerce Department announced the addition of 15 persons located in China, Hong Kong, Iran and Singapore to the Commerce Department's Entity List. In addition to the five individual defendants in this case, the Commerce Department named additional companies and individuals associated with this conspiracy. In placing these parties on the Entity List, the Commerce Department is imposing a licensing requirement for any item subject to Commerce regulation with a presumption that such a license would be denied.
Exports of U.S. Components Later Found in IEDs
According to the indictment, IEDs caused roughly 60 percent of all American combat casualties in Iraq between 2001 and 2007. The first conspiracy alleged in the indictment involved radio frequency modules that have several commercial applications, including in wireless local area networks connecting printers and computers in office settings. These modules include encryption capabilities and have a range allowing them to transmit data wirelessly as far as 40 miles when configured with a high-gain antenna. These same modules also have potentially lethal applications. Notably, during 2008 and 2009, coalition forces in Iraq recovered numerous modules made by the Minnesota firm that had been utilized as part of the remote detonation system for IEDs.
The indictment alleges that, between June 2007 and February 2008, the defendants fraudulently purchased and caused 6,000 modules to be illegally exported from the Minnesota company through Singapore, and later to Iran, in five shipments, knowing that the export of U.S.-origin goods to Iran was a violation of U.S. law. In each transaction, the defendants allegedly told the Minnesota firm that Singapore was the final destination of the goods. The defendants also caused false documents to be filed with the U.S. government, in which they claimed that a telecommunications project in Singapore was the final end-use for the modules. In reality, each of the five shipments was routed from Singapore to Iran via air cargo. The alleged recipient of all 6,000 modules in Iran was Larijani, who had directed Wong, his employee in Singapore, to order them.
According to the indictment, the defendants profited considerably from their illegal trade. The defendants allegedly made tens of thousands of dollars for arranging these illegal exports from the United States through Singapore to Iran.
The indictment alleges that several of the 6,000 modules the defendants routed from Minnesota to Iran were later discovered by coalition forces in Iraq, where they were being used as part of the remote detonation systems of IEDs. In May 2008, December 2008, April 2009, and July 2010, coalition forces found no less than 16 of these modules in unexploded IEDs recovered in Iraq, the indictment alleges.
During this period, some of the defendants were allegedly communicating with one another about U.S. laws prohibiting the export of U.S.-origin goods to Iran. For example, between October 2007 and June 2009, Nam contacted Larijani in Iran at least six times and discussed the Iran prohibitions and U.S. prosecutions for violation of these laws. Nam later told U.S. authorities that he had never participated in illicit exports to Iran, even though he had participated in five such shipments, according to the indictment.
Exports of Military Antennas
The indictment further charges Seng, Hia, and Corezing with a separate fraud conspiracy involving the illegal export of two types of military antenna from the United States. The indictment alleges that these defendants conspired to defraud the United States by causing a total of 55 cavity-backed spiral antennas and biconical antennas to be illegally exported from a Massachusetts company to Singapore and Hong Kong without the required State Department license.
These military antennas are controlled for export as U.S. munitions and are used in airborne and shipboard environments. The indictment states that the biconical antenna, for example, is used in military aircraft such as the F-4 Phantom, the F-15, the F-111, the A-10 Thunderbolt II and the F-16 combat jets.
Seng, Hia and Corezing are alleged to have, among other things, conspired to undervalue the antennas to circumvent U.S. regulations on the filing of shipper's export declarations to the U.S. government. They also allegedly used false names and front companies to obtain the antennas illegally from the United States.
The indictment further alleges that Larijani, based in Iran, made false statements about doing business with an accused Iranian procurement agent and that he attempted to obstruct an official proceeding by the U.S. Department of Commerce.
In January 2010, the Department of Commerce placed Larijani's company, Opto Electronics, on the Entity List, which is a list of companies to which U.S. businesses cannot export controlled dual-use items without obtaining U.S. government licenses. In response, Larijani repeatedly contacted Commerce Department officials in Washington, D.C., from Iran, requesting that his company be removed from the Entity List, according to the indictment. Commerce officials advised Larijani that, in considering whether his firm should be removed from the list, he needed to disclose whether he or his firm had any involvement with Majid Kakavand or Evertop Services Sdn Bhd.
Kakavand is an accused Iranian procurement agent who has been indicted in the United States, along with his Malaysian company Evertop Services, for illegally exporting U.S. goods to Iran, including to military entities in Iran involved in that nation's nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Kakavand remains a fugitive and is believed to be in Iran.
According to the indictment, Larijani denied to Commerce officials on three occasions that he or his company, Opto Electronics, had done any business with Kakavand or Evertop Services. In fact, the indictment alleges that Larijani had been in communication with others about his business dealings with Kakavand on at least five occasions from 2006 through 2009.
This investigation was jointly conducted by ICE HSI agents in Boston and Los Angeles; FBI agents in Minneapolis; and Department of Commerce, Bureau of Industry and Security agents in Chicago and Boston. Substantial assistance was provided by the U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the State Department's Directorate of Defense Trade Controls, the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, and the Office of International Affairs in the Justice Department's Criminal Division, particularly the Justice Department Attaché in the Philippines, as well as the FBI and ICE HSI Attachés in Singapore.
U.S. law enforcement authorities thanked the government of Singapore for the substantial assistance that was provided in the investigation of this matter.
The prosecution is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Anthony Asuncion and John W. Borchert of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia; and Trial Attorneys Jonathan C. Poling and Richard S. Scott of the Counterespionage Section of the Justice Department's National Security Division.
The public is reminded that an indictment contains mere allegations. Defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.