US charges Iranian, Chinese on Iran enrichment

The United States on Friday announced charges against an Iranian citizen and Chinese resident for allegedly trying to export nuclear-related material to help Tehran enrich uranium.

One of the men, Iranian citizen Parviz Khaki, was also accused of conspiring to send radioactive material from the United States to customers in Iran, according to an indictment by a federal grand jury in Washington.

Khaki, 43, was arrested in May in the Philippines on request of the United States while the Chinese resident, Yi Zongcheng, remains at large. The two men both face decades in prison if convicted.

The Justice Department alleged that Khaki and Yi sought to obtain and export materials including maraging steel, aluminum alloys, mass spectrometers and vacuum pumps used in gas centrifuges to enrich uranium.

Western officials and Israel suspect that Iran is enriching uranium to build a nuclear weapon under the cover of a civilian energy program. The same facilities used for peaceful enrichment can serve to build a bomb.

"Today's indictment sheds light on the reach of Iran's illegal procurement networks and the importance of keeping US nuclear-related materials from being exploited by Iran," Assistant Attorney General for National Security Lisa Monaco said in a statement.

"Iranian procurement networks continue to target US and Western companies for technology acquisition by using fraud, front companies and middlemen in nations around the globe," she said.

Iran, which has faced punishing Western sanctions, insists that its nuclear work is for peaceful purposes.

US officials said that Khaki in December 2008 asked a person in China to obtain 20 tons of C-350 maraging steel -- known for superior strength suitable in gas centrifuges -- from the United States for his customers in Iran.

He then communicated with Yi in the following months about buying 20 tons of maraging steel from a US company with which Yi was in contact, according to the indictment.

As he sought more maraging steel, Khaki was said to have interacted with an undercover US federal agent who was posing as an illegal exporter.

"You know and I know this material (is) limited material and danger goods," Khaki allegedly told the undercover agent. He also discussed making money from the transaction, the indictment said.

In a May 2009 email to the undercover agent, Khaki said that one magnetic mass spectrometer he sought was meant to analyze a chemical compound used in the gas centrifuge process to enrich uranium, according to the indictment.

Khaki allegedly also got in touch with someone in China about obtaining 20 tons worth of aluminum alloy rods from the United States or Europe.

During one exchange, Khaki explained that the aluminum alloy had to be made in America because his Iranian customer had found that Chinese aluminum alloy was of poor quality, according to the indictment.

In addition, the indictment said that Khaki tried to obtain radioactive source materials from the United States, asking the undercover agent to procure barium-133, europium-152, cobalt-57 and cadmium-109 from a US firm.

The two men were successful in exporting lathes and nickel alloy 120 wire from the United States through China to Iran, according to the indictment.

Khaki, who also goes by "Martin," and Yi, known as "Kohler," were each charged with one count of conspiracy to export US goods without a proper license, which carries up to 20 years in prison.

If convicted, they also face 20 years for conspiracy to commit money laundering, 10 years for each of two smuggling counts, five years for conspiring to defraud the United States and another 20 years for each count under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.

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