Portuguese Engineer Pleads Guilty to Conspiring to Export Technology to Iran Without Approval from the U.S. Government

July 17, 2017

Related Country: 

  • Portugal

WASHINGTON – Joao Pereira da Fonseca, 55, a citizen of Portugal, pled guilty today to a federal charge stemming from a scheme in which he conspired to help an Iranian company unlawfully obtain sophisticated equipment from two companies in the United States.

The plea was announced by Dana J. Boente, Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security, Channing D. Phillips, U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, and David Shaw, Special Agent in Charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in San Diego, Calif.

Fonseca, of Coimbra, Portugal, pled guilty to conspiring to unlawfully export goods and technology to Iran and to defraud the United States. He entered the guilty plea before the Honorable Emmet G. Sullivan, on the day his trial was to begin in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The charge carries a statutory maximum of five years in prison and potential financial penalties. The plea, which is contingent upon the Court’s approval, calls for a prison sentence of 20 months. Judge Sullivan accepted the plea today and scheduled sentencing for Sept. 7, 2017. Upon completion of his prison term, Fonseca faces deportation proceedings.

At the time he entered his guilty plea, Fonseca admitted to taking part in the scheme between October 2014 and April 2016. One of the companies in the United States manufactures machines that help produce sophisticated optical lenses that have both commercial and military uses. The other company manufactures machinery that tests components of inertial guidance systems that have both commercial and military uses. Fonseca was a contractor for a Portuguese engineering company that served as a front company to purchase the machines on behalf of their Iranian client. The Portuguese company claimed that it was purchasing the machines for its own use, but planned to have the machines shipped to Iran. Fonseca is a mechanical engineer whose role in the conspiracy was to travel to the U.S. to approve the machinery and learn how to install and maintain the machinery once it was shipped to its final destination in Iran.

Due to the investigation conducted by a Special Agent from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the government prevented both machines from leaving the U.S. Fonseca traveled to the United States to receive training on how to use the optical lens equipment in October 2015. He returned to the United States in late March 2016 to be trained on how to use the inertial guidance system equipment at the company that manufactures it. After a week of training, HSI had gathered sufficient evidence to detain Fonseca before he could fly back to Portugal. Soon thereafter, criminal charges were brought against Fonseca. He has been in custody ever since.

In announcing the plea, Acting Assistant Attorney General Boente, U.S. Attorney Phillips, and Special Agent in Charge Shaw expressed appreciation for the work of those who investigated the case from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). They also commended the work of the attorneys who investigated and prosecuted the case, including Assistant U.S. Attorneys Frederick W. Yette, Erik Kenerson and Thomas Swanton, of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and Trial Attorneys Robert E. Wallace and Amy Larson of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section.