Spanish company embroiled in nuclear smuggling scheme with Iran

BILBAO Mon Nov 26, 2012 2:26pm EST

BILBAO Nov 26 (Reuters) - A company from Spain's Basque country smuggled machinery to Iran for likely use in the country's nuclear programme through an elaborate scheme involving a shell company in Turkey, Spanish tax authorities said on Monday.

Spain's tax agency said the company had managed to send over seven machines designed to make parts for turbines used in energy plants, in a scheme that violated United Nations security council sanctions against Iran.

A source close to the operation named the company involved as ONA Electroerosion.

The machines, sold for nearly 1 million euros ($1.30 million), were destined for use in Iran's nuclear development programme, according to the agency's investigations to date.

The U.N., the United States and the European Union have imposed sanctions on Iran for refusing to halt nuclear enrichment, which Western powers fear is part of a plan to amass the capability to produce nuclear weapons.

Iran argues its atomic work is for use in medicine and generating electricity.

The company, based in the Basque municipality of Durango, had been denied a license to export seven fan-manufacturing machines to Iran in September 2009, precisely because of fears they could be used in the nuclear programme.

But it later duped Spanish customs by using an intermediary company set up in Turkey by its Iranian business partner, and shipped the machinery to Istanbul before dispatching it to Tehran.

Spain's tax agency said it had raided the company's premises on Nov. 13, removing documents and other information it was still analysing.

Its operation, dubbed "Kakum", began earlier this year, when it became suspicious of the company's activities.

No one has yet been arrested or charged in relation to the scheme, the agency said, though added those responsible could face prison sentences and a fine of close to 6 million euros. ($1 = 0.7713 euros) (Reporting by Arantza Goyaga in Bilbao and Enma Pinedo in Madrid; Writing by Sarah White; Editing by Sophie Hares)