An Iranian Plot to Acquire Carbon Fiber

July 25, 2019

Publication Type: 

  • International Enforcement Actions

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear
  • Missile

Author: 

Austin Bodetti

The U.S. Department of Justice unsealed an indictment last week charging Iranian nationals Ali Reza Shokri, Behzad Pourghannad, and Farzin Faridmanesh with orchestrating the shipment of carbon fiber from the United States to Iran. However, the three Iranians represent just half of a continent-spanning scheme first revealed seven years ago, when a grand jury indicted two other individuals: the Iranian-born American citizen Hamid Reza Hashemi and Turkish national Murat Taşkıran. American authorities waited for Pourghannad’s extradition from Germany last week to reveal the evidence implicating him and the two other Iranians in the plot.

Hashemi and Shokri, sometimes assisted by Faridmanesh and Pourghannad, led three attempts to ship carbon fiber from the United States to Iran between 2008 and 2013. At least one succeeded. The Iranians collaborated with Taşkıran and a trader with several European businesses—whom investigators dubbed “Individual 1”—to evade U.S. sanctions. The plotters hid the destination of the carbon fiber, mislabeled shipments, and routed the shipments through third countries.

The indictment of Hashemi and Taşkıran avoids naming their Iranian co-conspirators. Likewise, Faridmanesh, Pourghannad, and Shokri’s indictment redacts the names of Hashemi and Taşkıran. Still, the two documents cite the same evidence and reference the same events. Additional public records in Iran and the United States, meanwhile, offer an even fuller picture of the Iranian bid to import a commodity used not only in ballistic missiles, but also in gas centrifuges for uranium enrichment. In light of these applications, carbon fiber with specific characteristics is controlled by the Missile Technology Control Regime and the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

The Network
 

Hashemi, Shokri, and Taşkıran organized efforts to send carbon fiber to Iran while Pourghannad acted as the financial guarantor and Faridmanesh and Individual 1, who operated companies in Dubai and Europe, managed transshipment. According to a posting in an official Iranian gazette that tracks the formation of companies, an individual bearing Faridmanesh’s name serves as chief executive of Far Away Asia Company Limited, a business in Tehran. The gazette lists one of the company’s specialties as the import of “raw materials from foreign countries.”

As general manager of the Iranian company HB Composites, known in Persian as Arian Sadeh Company, Hashemi played the most public role in the conspiracy. In interactions with Individual 1 and Taşkıran, he relied on HB Composites to obtain the carbon fiber. Investigators noted that Shokri also had an affiliation with the firm and that he often worked with Hashemi.

HB Composites claims on its Persian website that its “products are manufactured in accordance with the latest standards of the United States of America.” According to the website, business partners of HB Composites include prominent Iranian companies involved in the petroleum and petrochemical industries: MAPNA Group, the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC), and the National Petrochemical Company (NPC). The U.S. Department of the Treasury has sanctioned NIOC and NPC, and Canada, Japan, and the United States have imposed sanctions on MAPNA or its affiliates.

Hashemi admitted after his arrest that an unnamed Iranian individual pressured him to use HB Composites as an intermediary for purchases on the Iranian government’s behalf. Hashemi added that the Iranian companies Sepanir and Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group (SHIG) had sought his services. Sepanir, a business linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), remains subject to U.N. sanctions. Several countries, including the United States, have sanctioned SHIG because it oversees Iran’s production of liquid-fueled ballistic missiles.

The Scheme
 

In 2008, Individual 1 and Taşkıran arranged the purchase of “IM7” carbon fiber from a broker in Orange County, New York, on behalf of HB Composites. Investigators only described the seller as “the United States supplier.” An analysis of public records, however, suggests that investigators were referring to an exporter of carbon fiber arrested on the same day as Hashemi for a similar crime: shipping the product to China through Belgium without the proper license. Prosecutors have noted that, because Individual 1 and Taşkıran doubled as intermediaries, the American supplier seemed to have had no knowledge that the shipments were heading to Iran. To hide the carbon fiber’s Iranian end users, Individual 1 and Taşkıran hired Individual 1’s freight forwarders to tranship the products through Europe and Dubai before they reached Iran. Correspondence from Taşkıran quoted in the pair of indictments refers to Shokri as responsible for payments. The Turkish broker said that Hashemi, having “knowledge and experience about composites,” would handle any of the transanction’s “technical issues.”

In 2009, Hashemi and Shokri attempted to buy another 1.5 kilograms of carbon fiber from the American supplier, again working through Individual 1 and Taşkıran. For his part, Pourghannad received the contract for the carbon fiber on behalf of Individual 1. In this case, Individual 1 and Taşkıran planned to route the carbon fiber through the United Kingdom, Dubai, and Turkey, but British authorities interdicted the shipment before it could reach Iran.

After the Justice Department arrested Hashemi in 2012, Shokri made at least one more attempt to acquire American-manufactured carbon fiber. In 2013, he signed contracts with Individual 1 to buy five tons of “T-700” carbon fiber as well as several thousand kilograms of “T-800” and “T-1000” carbon fiber, and Pourghannad emailed Individual 1 a surety for the intended purchase. Faridmanesh and Individual 1 planned to ship the carbon fiber to Iran by way of Tbilisi, Georgia, where Faridmanesh has sometimes resided. Faridmanesh suggested that Individual 1 obscure the contents of the shipment from inspectors by labeling them “acrylic” and “polyester.” It remains unclear whether the carbon fiber ever left the United States.

Case Status
 

A grand jury indicted Hashemi and Taşkıran on October 24, 2012, and the Justice Department detained Hashemi on December 1, 2012. Hashemi pleaded guilty to the charges against him in July 2013. That November, a judge sentenced him to forty-six months in prison and one year of supervised release. Hashemi left prison on November 15, 2015. His current whereabouts are unknown. Taşkıran remains at large. The U.S. Department of Commerce added him to the Entity List on January 10, 2017, restricting his ability to buy U.S. export-controlled products.

In 2016, the Federal Bureau of Investigation alleged that Hashemi had tried to continue running HB Composites from prison by communicating with his brother in code over email and phone. The official Iranian gazette lists the most recent chairman of the HB Composites board of directors as having Hashemi’s surname, but his familial relationship with Hashemi, if any, remains unknown.

Another grand jury indicted Faridmanesh, Pourghannad, and Shokri on July 11, 2013. German authorities arrested Pourghannad on May 3, 2017, and extradited him to the United States on July 15, 2019. He appeared in court on July 16 and is expected to appear again at a status conference on July 29. Faridmanesh and Shokri remain at large.

Footnotes: 

“Addition of Certain Persons and Revisions to Entries on the Entity List; and Removal of a Person From the Entity List,” U.S. Department of Commerce, January 10, 2017, available at https://www.iranwatch.org/sites/default/files/us-commerce-entitylist-ear82fr2883.pdf.

“Announcement of Changes to Arian Sadeh Company,” Iran Rooznameh Gazette, March 14, 2012, available via Sayari Analytics (search.sayari.com).

“Announcement of the Establishment of Far Away Asia Company Limited,” Iran Rooznameh Gazette, January 10, 2011, available via Sayari Analytics (search.sayari.com).

“Department of Justice Announces Extradition of Iranian National and Unsealing of Charges against Two Other Men for Exporting Carbon Fiber from the United States to Iran,” U.S. Department of Justice, July 16, 2019, available at https://www.iranwatch.org/library/governments/united-states/executive-branch/department-justice/department-justice-announces-extradition-iranian-national-unsealing-charges.

“Four Individuals Charged in the Southern District of New York with Exporting Various Goods from the United States to Iran and China,” U.S. Department of Justice, December 5, 2012, available at https://www.iranwatch.org/library/governments/united-states/executive-branch/department-justice/four-individuals-charged-southern-district-new-york-exporting-various-goods.

Indictment of Ali Reza Shokri, Behzad Pourghannad, and Farzin Faridmanesh, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, July 11, 2013, available at https://www.iranwatch.org/sites/default/files/pourghannad_indictment.pdf.

Indictment of Hamid Reza Hashemi and Murat Taşkıran, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, October 24, 2012, available at https://www.iranwatch.org/sites/default/files/hashemi_indictment.pdf.

“Letter Opposing Hamid Reza Hashemi's Request for Early Termination of Supervised Release,” U.S. Department of Justice, https://www.iranwatch.org/sites/default/files/letter_0.pdf.

Sentencing Memorandum for Hamid Reza Hashemi, U.S. Department of Justice, November 13, 2013, available at https://www.iranwatch.org/sites/default/files/sentencing_memorandum.pdf.