Aircraft Spare Parts Acquisition
As of 2000 it was estimated that only a total of 40 of the 132 F-4Ds, 177 F-4Es and 16 RF-4E Phantoms delivered before 1979 remained in service. At that time, approximately 45 of the 169 F-5E/Fs delivered were still flying, while perhaps 20 F-14A Tomcats of the 79 initially delivered were airworthy. Another 30 F-4s, 30 F-5s and 35 F-14s had been cannibalized for spare parts. One report suggested that the IRIAF could get no more than seven F-14s airborne at any one time.
However, Iran's aircraft and other military industries showed a level of skill and creativity. While often derided by Western observers as mere propoganda, Iran's aircraft industries have embarked on what have appeared serious bids to reclaim portions of their pre-1979 fleets or reverse engineer replacements. Necessity was the beginning of such development, with shortages of Western technology and replacement parts during the Iran-Iraq War. Iran modified I-HAWK surface to air missiles to function as air-to-air missiles, these in turn to be used by the F-14 fleet as supplies of AIM-54 missiles dwindled. Rumors that US personnel had sabotaged stocks of AIM-54 missiles in Iran prior to their post-Revolution departure were generally proven to be false, and a small number of missiles that were in fact deactivated were returned to operational condition by Iranian technicians. The effectiveness of the modified I-HAWK missiles in the air-to-air capacity is unknown, and similar experiments to modify the Standard SM-1 were not deployed.
Since the end of the Iran-Iraq War, Iran looked to the international markets for spare parts or other relevant equipment to maintain their Western aircraft fleet. Their aircraft industries also appeared to have been moderately successful in reverse engineering or at least understanding the basic functionality of certain systems, converting a number of F-5A fighters to a configuration similar to the F-5B fighter-trainer (called the Simorgh), and two domestic derivatives of the F-5E/F Tiger II series, the Azarakhsh and Saegeh. Iran reportedly had 6 Azarakhsh in service by 1997.
The United States has sought to prevent transfer of components that could assist in such projects. Technology and parts exclusive to the F-14 remain some of the most guarded, even after their departure from US service, because of the Iranian connection. US government agencies, such as the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), created in March 2003 and part of the Department of Homeland Security, engaged in enforcement of such policies. ICE is comprised of four integrated divisions that formed a 21st century law enforcement agency with broad responsibilities for a number of key homeland security priorities. One of the highest priorities of ICE and the Department of Homeland Security was to prevent terrorist groups and hostile nations from illegally obtaining US military products and sensitive technology.
In 1999, US Customs agents created an undercover arms procurement business that purportedly operated in Austria, but in actuality operated out of the United States. The undercover business mimicked the practices of a notorious Iranian arms broker who remained an ICE fugitive. On 10 December 2002, the undercover investigation resulted in federal charges against a number of organizations and individuals. These included Camnetics Manufacturing Corporation in Utah and its vice president, William Manning, Equipment and Supply International of North Carolina and its chief Andrew Adams, as well as Rick's Manufacturing and Supply Company of Oklahoma, and Jami S. Choudhury. Each was charged in the Eastern District of Wisconsin with violating the Arms Export Control Act for illegally exporting components for F-4 fighter jets, S-65 Sikorsky military assault helicopters, and other aircraft to undercover ICE agents. In all cases except Choudhury's, the undercover negotiations indicated that the military components were destined for Iran. Equipment and Supply International was sentenced to 2 years probation and fined $50,000. Andrew Adams, president of Equipment and Supply International, was sentenced to 3 years probation and fined $25,000. Rick's Manufacturing and Supply International was fined $50,000. Jami S. Choudhury was sentenced to 37 months incarceration, 36 months probation and was fined $2,000.
In February 1999 agents received information about a company in Bakersfield, California, called Multicore, Ltd (a subsidiary of Multicore London), that was involved in the purchase of F-14 fighter jet parts from US companies. In December 2000, Customs agents searched Multicore's storage facility in Bakersfield and seized thousands of aircraft and missile components that were bound for Iran via Singapore. Agents documented more than 270 shipments of military components delivered to Multicore in Bakersfield from various US companies for export. During the December 2000 raid, Customs agents also arrested Multicore officers Saeed Homayouni, a naturalized Canadian from Iran, and Yew Ling Fung, a Malaysian citizen, on arms export violations. In June 2001, Homayouni pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the Arms Export Control Act. Fung pleaded guilty to felony charges. Both were sentenced in the Southern District of California in September 2001. Based upon information uncovered by Customs agents in the December 2000 raid on Multicore Bakersfield, British authorities soon launched an investigation into Multicore London. In early May 2002, British agents of Her Majesty's Customs and Excise Service executed search warrants on Multicore's London office, one residence, and two storage facilities. They also arrested Soroosh Homayouni (the brother of Saeed Homayouni) and Mahboubeh Eshraghi in London. Both Iranian citizens, these individuals were charged by British authorities with violating UK export regulations. The searches in London yielded thousands of missile and fighter jet components, as well as documents from the government of Iran requesting that Multicore in London purchase military components around the globe. In August 2002, Customs agents met with British authorities to review the evidence seized at Multicore's London offices. The evidence indicated that more than 50 US companies had shipped military items directly to Multicore in London after the December 2000 raids on Multicore's facility in Bakersfield. Armed with this evidence, Customs agents launched an investigation into those US companies that had supplied Multicore in London. This investigation ultimately resulted in the searches of the 18 US companies.
On July 10, 2003, ICE agents executed federal search warrants on 18 US companies in 10 states suspected of violating the Arms Export Control Act. The ICE investigation indicated that these US companies had illegally exported thousands of missile and fighter jet components to Multicore, Ltd. (aka AKS Industries), an Iranian front company in London that procured weapons systems worldwide directly for the Iranian military. Among the items allegedly exported by these US companies to Multicore in London were components for US HAWK missiles, F-14 fighter jets, F-5 fighter jets, F-4 fighter jets, C-130 military aircraft, military radars, and other equipment. The July 2003 search warrants were the latest phase in an ICE investigation into Multicore that began in 1999.
On 19 February 2004, Camnetics Manufacturing Corporation in Utah pleaded guilty to making false statements. In May 2004, Camnetics Vice President, William Manning, pleaded guilty to obstruction charges. Camnetics was fined $25,000 and William Manning was sentenced to three years probation and fined $5,000. Each had been charged in December 2002 in the Eastern District of Wisconsin with three counts of violating the Arms Export Control Act in connection with an ICE undercover investigation, which revealed that Camnetics illegally exported components for F-4 fighter jets and S-65 Sikorsky military assault helicopters to undercover ICE agents. Undercover negotiations indicated that the military components were destined for Iran. The guilty pleas were the latest developments in a now-closed undercover ICE operation out of Milwaukee called "Operation Fool's Gold." The investigation targeted US companies and individuals that were illegally exporting weapons components to foreign locations, primarily Iran.
On 6 November 2004, Hamid M. Butt, 71, a naturalized US citizen and a Pakistani native who was indicted on 15 October 2004, for violations of the Arms Export Control Act, died of natural causes. ICE agents had arrested Butt on June 22, 2004, after he arrived in Houston on a flight from Malaysia. Butt had been charged in a sealed complaint in Newark with violating the Arms Export Control Act for attempting to export F-14 fighter jet parts to Iran in 1999. Butt was the sole owner and operator of Humble Parts Distribution, an aircraft parts supply firm in Humble, Texas. The complaint alleged that in October 1999, Butt received an order for F-14 parts from Office de Distribution et Maintenance (ODM), an international spare parts trading company located in France. Butt then attempted to illegally ship electronic parts specifically made for the F-14 from Houston to Frankfurt, Germany, via Newark, New Jersey, without the required export license from the State Department. US border inspectors found and seized the shipment before it could leave Newark. ICE agents conducted a subsequent investigation that led to federal charges against Butt, which were unsealed upon his arrest.
On 18 November 2004, a federal judge in Washington, DC ordered Los Angeles aircraft parts supplier Interaero Inc. to pay a $500,000 fine and serve five years of corporate probation for illegally exporting components for the HAWK missile, the F-4 Phantom fighter jet, and the F-5 Phantom/Tiger fighter jet to China between June 2000 and March 2001. Interaero pleaded guilty to violating the Arms Export Control Act in August 2004. The conviction of Interaero was the eleventh in California and the District of Columbia to result from a 5-year undercover ICE investigation that targeted aircraft parts suppliers that sold defense articles over the Internet to foreign buyers without obtaining the required US export licenses or complying with the arms embargoes. For example, on 3 August 2004, Amanullah Khan, a US citizen, pleaded guilty to a four-count criminal indictment in Los Angeles alleging that Khan and his Anaheim, California company, United Aircraft & Electronics, illegally exported F-4 and F-5 fighter jets to China. Khan's partner in United Aircraft & Electronics, Ziad Jamil Gammoh, a US citizen, pleaded guilty on 24 June 2004 to the same charges.
On 29 July 2004, Mexpar International, another defendant in the undercover investigation, was sentenced in Los Angeles to three years probation and a fine of $75,000 for illegally exporting components for F-4 fighter jets, HAWK missiles, and AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles to China. Ahmad Nahardani and Gabriela De Brea, who operated Mexpar International, pleaded guilty to arms export violations in September 2003. On 9 September 2004, De Brea was sentenced to one-year incarceration. Nahardani received a sentence of 21 months federal imprisonment. On 7 November 2005, Gammoh was sentenced to 78 months in prison for his part in the conspiracy. On 28 November 2005, Khan was sentenced to 188 months in prison for his role.
On 9 December 2004, Sherzhik Avassapian pleaded guilty in federal court in Miami to one count of making false statements. Avassapian, a Tehran-based broker who asserted he worked on behalf of the Iranian Ministry of Defense, had been charged in December 2003, in a three-count superseding indictment with 1) conspiracy to violate the Arms Export Control Act; 2) engaging in brokering activities with a prohibited nation (Iran), and 3) making false statements to a federal law enforcement officer. On 18 September 2003, ICE agents in Miami arrested Avassapian after he arrived in Miami on a flight from Europe to meet with undercover ICE agents and inspect US military items. Documents outlining the proposed arms deal were found by ICE agents stuffed under the bed mattress in Avassapian's Miami hotel room. The charges resulted from an undercover ICE investigation that revealed that Avassapian attempted to purchase in Florida and illegally export roughly $750,000 worth of US F-14 fighter jet components to the Iranian military, via Italy. According to the indictment, Avassapian solicited these military parts from undercover ICE agents in the United States, and then discussed the transshipment of these parts through third countries, including Italy, to conceal Iran as the ultimate destination. Finally, he inspected the components in the United States and provided a down payment for their purchase. Avassapian also negotiated with undercover ICE agents over the illegal export of complete military helicopters and C-130 military aircraft electrical and avionic upgrades to Iran. On 16 May 2005, Avassapian was sentenced to 41 months federal imprisonment.
On 25 February 2005, a federal indictment charging Ali Asghar Manzarpour, 43, of Brighton, United Kingdom, with five counts of violating the US embargo on Iran was unsealed in US District Court in Washington, DC. The indictment alleged that Manzarpour attempted to illegally export a Berkut 360 experimental, single-engine aircraft from the US to Iran via the U.K. The aircraft was intercepted in the UK. Manzarpour also allegedly exported electrical components from the US to Iran via Austria on four occasions between 2000 and 2004. Manzarpour was arrested in Warsaw, Poland, on 17 February 2005, by Polish authorities acting on a US arrest warrant issued after a joint investigation by ICE agents in Chicago, the ICE Attaché in Austria, and Department of Commerce agents. Manzarpour had previously served nine months in British prisons after being convicted in May 1998 for attempting to export US-origin maraging steel from Britain to Iran for nuclear purposes. At the time, British authorities noted that the high-strength steel, which is used to build centrifuges for enriching uranium, was destined for Iran's nuclear weapons program. British authorities said Manzarpour had been working with the Iranian government for at least a decade.
On 12 April 2005, Xiuwen "Jennifer" Liang, 34, was sentenced to 30 months imprisonment and fined $6,000 in Los Angeles for conspiring to illegally export parts for the F-14 fighter jet, as well as components for the HAWK, TOW and AIM-9 Sidewinder missile systems to China. ICE agents arrested Liang and her husband, Jinghua Zhuang, 48, in February 2003 as a result of a lengthy undercover investigation targeting US companies that illegally sold defense articles over the Internet to foreign buyers. Zhuang was previously sentenced to 30 months imprisonment for his role in the scheme. The couple owned a company in Thousand Oaks, California, called Maytone International.
On 6 July 2005, Iranian businessman Abbas Tavakolian, 58, was sentenced to 57 months incarceration and 2 years supervised release pursuant to pleading guilty to Arms Export Control Act and money laundering violations. Tavakolian pleaded guilty for his role in a scheme to illegally export F-4 and F-14 fighter jet components to Iran. Beginning in January 2004, Tavakolian and his son-in-law Hossein Vaezi, sought to obtain 100 gunnery systems for US fighter jets from suppliers in Maryland for export to Iran. Undercover ICE agents later met with Tavakolian in Europe to discuss the transactions. Tavakolian arranged for $20,000 to be wired to undercover ICE agents as a down payment for the arms deal, which totaled approximately $380,000. In December 2004, Tavakolian met undercover ICE agents in the South Pacific to finalize the deal with $100,000 in cash. He was arrested after additional undercover meetings in which he sought to acquire several fully assembled F-14 fighter jet aircraft for future shipment to Iran.
On 5 June 2006, Arif Ali Durrani was sentenced to 150 months in prison following his conviction for illegally exporting military aircraft components to Iran. One co-conspirator pled guilty to a conspiracy violation in August 2005 and was sentenced to five years of probation. Further, on 18 October 2005, a second Durrani co-conspirator pled guilty to export violations and was sentenced to 18 months in prison. Durrani was previously convicted following an ICE investigation for illegally exporting HAWK missile components to Iran.
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