A Chinese national and two Iranian firms were charged in the U.S. with conspiring to export devices that can be used in uranium enrichment, the second case revealed this week in a Justice Department crackdown on the proliferation of restricted technology.
Sihai Cheng was arrested Feb. 7 while traveling in the U.K., the U.S. said today in a statement. He is being held there pending a June hearing on extradition to face charges in Boston.
Iran is among countries including Pakistan and China being aided by networks of people to evade U.S. trade embargoes and obtain parts with military uses or restricted technology. More than 100 people have been charged with exporting such items to Iran since the U.S. began a crackdown in 2007.
Federal prosecutors in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, this week unsealed charges against two Pakistani nationals and a former Pennsylvania resident over exports to Pakistan.
Cheng, from Shanghai, allegedly conspired with Seyed Abolfazl Shahab Jamili of Tehran and the Iranian companies Nicaro Eng. Co. and Eyvaz Technic Manufacturing Co. to export the devices, called pressure transducers. They can be used in gas centrifuges to produce weapons-grade uranium, according to the statement.
The U.S. restricted trade with Iran and imposed other sanctions over concerns it is sponsoring terrorism, pursuing nuclear arms capability and violating human rights. Pressure transducers are subject to export controls and can’t be shipped to China legally without an export license. They can’t be shipped to Iran at all, prosecutors said.
From November 2005 to 2012, Cheng allegedly supplied thousands of parts that have nuclear applications to Eyvaz, an Iranian company involved in the development and procurement of parts for Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
Some of the parts were manufactured in China, prosecutors said. Beginning in 2009, the men sought to obtain hundreds of U.S. made pressure transducers manufactured by MKS Instruments Inc. in Andover, Massachusetts, according to the statement.
Upon receipt of the MKS parts in China, Cheng would ship them on to Iran, according to the statement.
If convicted, Cheng and Jamili face as long as 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine for each violation.
Iran has said it has no plans to build a nuclear bomb. In November, the country agreed to halt some of its sensitive nuclear work, including gradually eliminating its stockpile of 20 percent-enriched uranium, in exchange for as much as $7 billion in sanctions relief.
Negotiators from six countries, including the U.S., Germany and France, said last month they think a permanent agreement on the Islamic republic’s nuclear program is possible before the interim accord expires in July.
The case is U.S. v. Cheng, 13-cr-10332, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts (Boston)