posted on Jan, 22 2010 @ 12:52 PM
The Iranian engineer flew to Paris with his wife, intending to see the Eiffel Tower and other tourist sites. Instead, he was arrested at the airport
under a U.S. warrant - suspected of evading export controls to buy U.S. technology for Iran's military.
The case of Majid Kakavand, accused of purchasing American electronics online and routing it to Iran via Malaysia, has shed light on increasing U.S.
attempts to crack down on people outside American borders suspected of illegally buying U.S. supplies for Iran military programs.
The case is also pushing the justice system in France, which has grown increasingly tough on Iran's nuclear ambitions but also has trade and oil
interests in the country, toward a stand that could have deep diplomatic and economic repercussions.
Kakavand's future could be decided at a Feb. 17 Paris hearing on whether to extradite him to the United States.
Iran's government spoke out about the case for the first time this week, accusing France of linking Kakavand's fate to that of a young French
academic on trial in Iran. It says Kakavand is innocent and suggests he is being used as a bargaining chip in the diplomatic tug-of-war over
24-year-old Clotilde Reiss.
The United States says Kakavand, 37, and two colleagues ordered U.S. electronics - including capacitors, inductors, resistors, sensors and connectors
- and had them shipped to Malaysia, from which they were dispatched to Iran without export licenses required by U.S. authorities.
Documents filed in the U.S. District Court in Northern California obtained by The Associated Press said they had set up a company called Evertop
Services in Malaysia that dispatched the goods to its two main customers, Iran Electronics Industries and Iran Communication Industries.
Both companies "were designated in 2008 by the United States for their role in Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile program," according to a
summary of the case from the Department of Justice.
Kakavand is accused of conspiracy to export to an embargoed country, money laundering, smuggling goods and other counts.
Kakavand's lawyer acknowledges the company sold merchandise to the IEI and ICI, as they are known. But she denies he has any other ties to the
Iranian military or nuclear industries. "In trade, you purchase, you resell - it's a normal trade act," lawyer Diane Francois said.
The European Union slapped restrictions on the IEI in June 2008. Francois says the transactions at issue in Kavakand's case predated that decision
and says it cannot apply to his case.
A main point of debate has been whether the goods have potential for sensitive military uses. A document sent to France by an assistant U.S. attorney
to support the extradition request argued that many items met military standards.
It also cited products designed for thermal control of spacecraft, noting that they can be used to "enhance the stealthy design of military
spacecraft or missiles that may travel through outer space," according to the document, obtained Friday by The Associated Press.
Kakavand's lawyer, however, argued that all the items would be "useless" in armaments and said most were materials that can be found in hardware
stores. She says he bought them from the United States simply because they are cheaper there.
Kakavand's main job was as an electrical engineer, Francois said, while Evertop Services was a second job to earn extra money. Since the arrest he
has lost his engineering job. His family is paying for his Paris studio apartment.
In many cases, suspects accused of violating the U.S. embargo on Iran have been apprehended in the United States. But some, including Kakavand and a
man taken into custody in Germany last week, have been nabbed overseas. Kakavand has never set foot in the United States, his lawyer said - all his
U.S. business dealings were conducted via e-mail.
For the United States, counting on allies to hand over suspects has risks. In Kakavand's case, a French judge must decide whether to extradite him
solely based on whether his actions were illegal under French law, not under U.S. law.
Since France has no general trade embargo on Iran like the U.S. has, Kakavand's lawyers argue he didn't break any laws here. The United States
"seems to want the world to enforce their embargo, and it's not enforceable anywhere outside the U.S.," lawyer Francois said Wednesday.
A U.S. Department of Justice official, speaking on condition of anonymity to provide background on the case, said that individuals who conduct
business in many nations "have an obligation to follow the laws of each of those countries, not just those they see fit."
France under outspoken President Nicolas Sarkozy has helped lead Western efforts over the past two years to rein in Iran's nuclear program, which the
U.S. and its allies suspect aims to produce weapons. Iran says the program is for peaceful energy production.
Yet unlike the United States, France sells goods to Iran - it had euro1.374 billion ($1.94 billion) in exports to Iran in the first 11 months of 2009,
according to French customs figures. The U.S. embargo in place since 1995 is a source of mystery for many here.
Kakavand's arrest is the latest blow against Iran's government, facing opposition protests at home and the threat of new U.N. sanctions, and shows
that Iran is exposed on various fronts. By commenting on it publicly this week, Iran could be trying to put pressure on France to refuse extradition.
France's government insists that its judiciary is independent, even if the extradition decision is viewed in Iran as a political one.
Iran released a list earlier this month of 11 Iranians it says are being held in the United States - including a nuclear scientist who disappeared in
Saudi Arabia and a former Defense Ministry official who vanished in Turkey.
The list also includes an Iranian arrested in Canada on charges of trying to obtain nuclear technology, as well as an Iranian who was arrested in the
Caucasus nation of Georgia, handed over to the United States and convicted in a U.S. court in December on charges of plotting to ship sensitive U.S.
military technology to Iran. Kakavand's name was mistakenly on the list as well, though he is still in France.