Thursday 30 March 2017

Iran arms smuggling ring broken in Italian crackdown

Seven arrested in plot to send weapons to Tehran

Nick Squires in Rome

Italian police claim to have broken a European arms-smuggling ring that was providing weapons to Iran in violation of international sanctions.

Seven people, including alleged Iranian secret service agents, were arrested yesterday on suspicion of supplying explosives and hi-tech military equipment to Tehran.

Investigators said the two Iranians and five Italians were involved in a plot to export tracer bullets, precision sights and explosives to Iran via third countries, including Britain, Romania and Dubai.

The move came amid heightened tension between Iran and the West with growing calls for stronger sanctions over its nuclear weapons programme.

British police are believed to have arrested a man implicated in the trafficking in the past few months. Telescopic sights designed for rifles were seized at Heathrow airport and police arrested a man alleged to be the gang's contact in Britain.

The investigation was launched in June when more than 200 German-made telescopic sights were seized in Romania, allegedly on their way to Iran. A further 900 had reportedly been ordered by the Iranians.

The suspects were also alleged to have been trying to smuggle "dual-use" equipment, which can be easily converted from civilian to military use.

"Our investigations were complex, because the traffickers played on the ambiguity between civilian and military arms," said Armando Spataro, an anti-terrorist prosecutor.

"It is an investigation of considerable importance because it concerns the entire international community.

"Their system . . . often involved buying merchandise abroad and moving it between Italy and other nations to hide the final and real destination."

The group was arrested on suspicion of "criminal association for the purpose of exporting arms and weapons systems to Iran in violation of the international embargo that is in effect," police said.

The illegal exports also included large quantities of Bulgarian-made anti-tank missiles, explosive chemical materials and 120 buoyancy jackets designed for military divers.

Success

Lieutenant Colonel Vincenzo Andreone, of the Italian financial police, who led the operation, said its success had rested on extensive wiretapping. The arrested Iranians were Hamid Nejad Masoumi (51), a state television journalist who worked out of the foreign press association in Rome, and Bakhtiyari Homayoun (47), whose occupation was not revealed.

Of the five Italians arrested, one owned an arms import-export company in Turin, another was the head of a telecommunications company and a third was a lawyer who allegedly travelled to Tehran to forge contacts with the Iranian military.

Italy is one of Iran's most important trading partners, although Italian investments there have dropped recently as a result of the close ties forged between Silvio Berlusconi, the prime minister, and Israel.

Arrest warrants were also issued for two more Iranians, but they were thought to be in Iran and beyond the reach of authorities. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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