x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Shipping firm denies role in smuggling plot

A Sea Speed official in Dubai says the company is unaware of being indicted by a US grand jury in a case involving Iranian fighter aircraft.

DUBAI // A shipping company indicted by a US federal grand jury in Miami has denied any involvement in a plot to smuggle military equipment to Iran. Sea Speed Cargo and Sea Transport is one of five companies named in the case, which alleges that spare parts for fighter aircraft and military helicopters were shipped to Iran from the US via Dubai.

The company's director, Mohammed Saboni, an Iranian citizen who lives in Dubai, is one of six individuals also named in the case. Mr Saboni is thought to be in Canada, but a senior official of the firm said he was unaware that Sea Speed had been named. "We ship goods to Africa, Europe and elsewhere in the Middle East, including Iran, but this is the first I have heard of this case," said Faique Barmawar, who is heading the company in Mr Saboni's absence.

"We do forward goods from the US to Iran, but we follow the required procedures. We do not check the contents; we simply check that the paperwork is correct and it is the responsibility of the companies sending and receiving the items to make sure they have the permission. Checking inside the containers is the job of the customs authorities." In January, Hassan Keshari, an Iranian-born US citizen, pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy relating to the alleged plot. He admitted using his company, Kesh Air International Corp, to buy spare parts for military aircraft from a firm in Florida for clients in Iran, and using forged documentation to ship the goods via Dubai.

The spare parts were for aircraft including F-14 Tomcat fighters, C-130 cargo planes and Bell AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters, prosecutors in Miami said. Mr Keshari, who has been in custody since June, is due to be sentenced today. He faces a maximum of five years in prison and could be fined up to US$250,000 (Dh918,000). The company from which he bought the spares, Orion Aviation Corp, together with its owner, Traian Bujduveanu, a Romanian-born US citizen, are both named in the grand jury indictment. Mr Bujduveanu is scheduled to stand trial next month, although prosecutors say they are in talks with him on a plea bargain.

The other individuals named in the indictment are Abbas Haider, an Indian citizen said to be living in Dubai, and Reza Pour, Amir Atabaki and Mohammad Esmaeil, who are all Iranian citizens. The firms named other than Sea Speed and Orion are Planet Commercial Brokerage, based in Dubai, and Mahdi Electronic Trading, Raht Aseman Company and Sahab Phase, all based in Iran. Telephone numbers listed for Planet Commercial Brokerage in Dubai were yesterday either out of order or had been taken over by other firms.

Mohamed al Mehairi, the head of the UAE's Federal Customs Authority, said improved intelligence sharing between allies in recent years had made it harder to smuggle prohibited technology to Iran. "There have been issues in the past, but because of the global attention now towards Iran it has become more and more difficult for people to transfer this kind of technology there," he said. "We speak to the Americans frequently. The way forward is to have in place a system for exchanging intelligence from one side to another. Customs officers cannot check every container; there has to be an intelligence-led risk management system to identify where to look."

Last year the FCA announced it was setting up its own intelligence unit to track shipments of prohibited goods and stop them entering the country. In a separate case, an Irish company and three of its officers were charged in a US federal indictment in Washington DC last month with purchasing spare parts for aircraft and shipping them to Iran via the UAE and Malaysia. gmcclenaghan@thenational.ae