Extradition of Iranian Engineer, Suspected of Missile-Related Procurement, Moves Forward

June 21, 2019

Publication Type: 

  • International Enforcement Actions

Weapon Program: 

  • Missile

Author: 

Valerie Lincy

An Iranian engineer alleged by the United States to be supporting Iran's military may soon be extradited from France to the United States. Late last month, a court of appeals in Aix-en-Provence ruled that the extradition of Jalal Rohollahnejad could proceed, although he may still make a final legal appeal of the decision to the Court of Cassation in Paris. Charges against Rohollahnejad in U.S. federal court relate to his alleged involvement in an attempt to procure U.S.-origin items with potential military applications for Iran.

While U.S. court documents related to this case have not been released, the extradition procedure in France took place publicly and was reported on in the French media.[1] According to these reports, between April 2016 and June 2018, Rohollahnejad allegedly sought industrial microwave and anti-drone systems from several U.S. firms for Rayan Roshd Afszar, an entity connected to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Rayan Roshd produces components for the IRGC's drone program, according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury[2]. Rohollahnejad allegedly aimed to disguise the Iranian end-user and destination for these items by using a Chinese pseudonym and declaring the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as the ultimate destination. Payments related to the scheme allegedly totaled about $1 million and involved transfers through several shell companies.

The China Connection

Rohollahnejad appears to have strong connections to China, where he reportedly lived for about ten years. He earned a PhD in optical engineering in 2017 from the Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, China.[3] His research areas include fiber optic sensors, adaptive optics, high power fiber lasers, and ultra-fast measurement and temporal imaging. And he has published a number of scholarly journal articles on these topics since 2009, listing Huazhong University as his affiliation.[4]

The alleged Iranian end-user, Rayan Roshd, is also connected to China. The company is part of the Beijing-based Rayan Group, which shares personnel with Rayan Roshd and helped the Iranian firm obtain items with military applications from China. Rayan Roshd, along with related persons and companies, was sanctioned by the Treasury Department in July 2017 for supporting the IRGC's drone program.[5] In addition, according to Treasury, the firm produced software for the IRGC's aerospace program and has supported the IRGC's efforts to restrict social media and telecommunications in Iran.

Ballistic missiles?

While the precise nature of Rohollahnejad's connection to Rayan Roshd is unclear, he did acknowledge in French court that he worked with Iran's Aerospace Industries Organization (AIO) for about ten years "on research projects that were 100% scientific."[6] AIO is a subsidiary of Iran's Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL), overseeing ballistic missile development and production through dozens of subordinate entities. Over a dozen people or firms associated with AIO remain subject to U.N. Security Council sanctions because of their support for Iran's ballistic missile program.[7]

Rohollahnejad is also connected to AIO through his publishing history. He is listed as a co-author on a Persian-language paper titled "Using Infrared to Detect Missiles" that was submitted to a defense conference held in Tehran sometime after 2001. In this paper, Rohollahnejad lists Shahid Alamolhoda Industries as his affiliation.[8] This firm is involved in the development of missile components and is owned or controlled by the Naval Defense Missile Industry Group (SAIG), itself controlled by AIO.

Status and Next Steps

French authorities arrested Rohollahnejad on February 2, 2019 after he flew from Tehran to Nice by way of Moscow. He had obtained a French visa in order to travel to southeastern France for meetings with a company related to a project on underground water in the Persian Gulf. Rohollahnejad denies the U.S. allegations, and his lawyers claim that the United States is pursuing "a strategy of smoke and mirrors" as part of a "cold war" between the United States and Iran.[9]

Rohollahnejad is reportedly planning to appeal the May 22 decision on his extradition. He and his lawyers disagree with the court's prosecutors who argued that Rohollahnejad's alleged actions would also be illegal under French law – a requirement for extradition from France. This appeal will go to the Court of Cassation in Paris. If the lower court ruling is confirmed, the Prime Minister would then need to issue a decree confirming Rohollahnejad's extradition to the United States. This step would itself be subject to administrative appeal to the Conseil d'Etat, which acts as the country's equivalent of the Supreme Court for administrative affairs.

In the meantime, Rohollahnejad is being held in French prison. Officials from the Iranian embassy were present in court during extradition proceedings and have sought – four times – to have Rohollahnejad freed pending the result of his appeal. The court considers Rohollahnejad to be a flight risk and has rejected these requests.

Footnotes: 

[1] See in particular: Luc Leroux, "Le sort d'un Iranien entre justices francaise et americaine," Le Monde, April 30, 2019; and "Avis favorable à l'extradition d'un ingénieur iranien vers les USA," Le Figaro, May 22, 2019.

[2] "Treasury Targets Persons Supporting Iranian Military and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps," Press Release, U.S. Department of the Treasury, July 18, 2017, available at https://www.iranwatch.org/library/governments/united-states/executive-branch/department-treasury/treasury-targets-persons-supporting-iranian-military-irans-islamic.

[3] Profile: Jalal Rohollahnejad, Science HR, https://www.science.hr/profile/jalal-rohollahne-ytpshmp6/, accessed June 19, 2019.

[4] Rohollahnejad, Jalal, Author details, Scopus, accessed June 19, 2019.

[5] "Treasury Targets Persons Supporting Iranian Military and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps," Press Release, U.S. Department of the Treasury, July 18, 2017, available at https://www.iranwatch.org/library/governments/united-states/executive-branch/department-treasury/treasury-targets-persons-supporting-iranian-military-irans-islamic.

[6] Luc Leroux, "Le sort d'un Iranien entre justices francaise et americaine," Le Monde, April 30, 2019.

[7] The List established and maintained pursuant to Security Council res. 2231 (2015), U.N. Security Council, June 20, 2019, available at https://scsanctions.un.org/fop/fop?xml=htdocs/resources/xml/en/consolidated.xml&xslt=htdocs/resources/xsl/en/iran-r.xsl.

[8] "Using Infrared to Detect Missiles," 2006 (in Farsi), accessed on November 1, 2017.

[9] Luc Leroux, "Le sort d'un Iranien entre justices francaise et americaine," Le Monde, April 30, 2019.