The alleged scheme was revealed in an indictment unsealed Tuesday at US District Court in Washington.
It charged four Singapore citizens and the alleged Iran-based ring-leader, Hossein Larijani, with violating US export control laws, including restrictions against shipments to Iran and the unauthorized transfer of military technology to unapproved countries.
The alleged operation involved the purchase and shipment of 6,000 radio modules from a company in Minnesota to Singapore, where the technology was illegally re-shipped to Iran, according to the indictment.
The four Singapore citizens were arrested on Monday. The US requested that they be extradited to Washington to stand trial, and Singapore reportedly has agreed to arrange their extradition.
The Iranian, Mr. Larijani, remains at large. Officials say he runs two companies, Paya Electronics Complex, based in Iran, and Opto Electronics Pte, Ltd., based in Singapore.
Because of an ongoing embargo, trade with Iran is illegal. In addition, certain categories of sensitive technology require export licenses, including verification that the equipment will not be transferred to certain designated countries. Iran is a country designated as ineligible to receive sensitive US technology.
In January 2010, Larijani’s company, Opto Electronics, was placed on a Commerce Department watch list after US officials obtained information potentially linking Larijani to an alleged Iranian procurement agent, Majid Kakavand.
Mr. Kakavand is under indictment in the US for allegedly exporting American equipment to military agencies in Iran associated with that country’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
Larijani has denied any connection to Kakavand. But US officials say they have information that the two were involved in business dealings five times from 2006 to 2009.
The indictment against the Iran-based ring was unveiled two weeks after the United States accused Iranian government officials of being behind a foiled plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the US on American soil.
Among the men arrested in Singapore Monday was Wong Yuh Lan, who worked as an agent of Opto Electronics under Larijani’s direction. Also arrested were Lim Yong Nam, Lim Kow Seng, and Hia Soo Gan Benson. The three worked at other companies allegedly involved in the illegal shipments to Iran.
“This case underscores the continuing threat posed by Iranian procurement networks seeking to obtain US technology through fraud, and the importance of safeguarding that technology,” said Lisa Monaco, Assistant Attorney General for National Security, in a statement.
The radio frequency modules have both commercial and military applications. They can be used in wireless local area networks connecting printers and computers in an office. The shipped modules also contain encryption capabilities and are able to transmit data up to 40 miles when coupled with a high-powered antenna.
Officials said that in 2008 and 2009, coalition forces in Iraq discovered modules made by the Minnesota firm that had been used as part of the remote detonation system for IEDs (improvised explosive devices), the roadside bombs that exacted a heavy toll on US forces over the course of many years. The US military has long pointed to Iran as the source of the know-how to design, and manufacture, the deadliest devices.
According to the indictment, 6,000 modules were purchased between June 2007 and February 2008 for shipment to Singapore. They were later transferred to Iran in five shipments.
Officials at the Minnesota company, which was not named in the indictment and not charged, were told that Singapore was the final destination for the modules.