| DUBAI, July 13
DUBAI, July 13 At its gleaming store, RadanMac
offers the latest Apple gear - the new iPad, iPhones, iPods,
laptops, all-in-one desktop computers and more.
But this is no ordinary Apple store. It's in Tehran, where
Apple and other U.S. computer products are banned under U.S.
sanctions that have been in place for years. Despite the
embargo, RadanMac is one of an estimated 100 stores in the
Iranian capital that openly sell Apple products, often at little
more than U.S. prices.
"Business has been booming for the last three years," said
Majid Tavassoli, the store's owner, in a phone interview. He
said his company employs more than 20 staffers and has been
supplying Apple products to Iranian buyers since 1995. The
company also has a servicing unit and a business sales arm whose
clients have included the Central Bank of Iran, state television
channels, newspapers and design professionals.
Iran's booming Apple business underscores the limitations of
economic sanctions by the United States and other countries.
Washington and its allies have imposed sanctions in an attempt
to curb Iran's nuclear programme, which Tehran maintains is
peaceful. U.S. companies are barred from selling any goods or
services to Iran unless they obtain special authorization.
The focus of the sanctions has been on Iran's banks and oil
industry, Iranian individuals and companies that Western
capitals believe are assisting what they suspect is Tehran's
drive towards a nuclear weapons capability.
But U.S. consumer products and computer equipment are
another matter. Although they are banned, enterprising Iranian
merchants continue to source them through underground trade
routes in the Middle East and beyond.
In the case of Apple, some digital sales of music, videos
and software go directly through the California company - via
its iTunes and App Store online services. According to Tehran
computer dealers, Iran is a rapidly growing market for software
downloads: Iranians register Apple accounts with randomly-chosen
addresses outside the country, and use foreign gift-cards to pay
In response, a spokesman for Apple Inc referred Reuters to
its export control policy that restricts it or any subsidiaries
it owns from exporting any products to Iran.
Once considered rare and sought-after, iPhones and iPads are
now de rigueur in Iran among those who can afford them. The
epicentre of the trade is Tehran's largest technology mall, the
bustling Capital Computer Complex, where more than 350 traders
supply products for Iran's increasingly tech-savvy population.
One of RadanMac's competitors is a smaller firm called Apple
Iran. Its website is a nearly exact replica of Apple's own,
except for the Persian language and a disclaimer: "This website
is not in anyway affiliated with Apple Inc." Apple has been
attempting to shut it down, according to a person familiar with
"We're really proud of it," says Apple Iran spokesman Ali
Afghah, an Apple enthusiast and author of a Farsi-language study
on the history of the company.
"I'm known as the Apple guy by friends and family," said the
28-year-old, who bought his first Apple computer in 2002 and now
describes himself as a "Mac-head."
"It was different then," he said. "The products were around
double the price."
Like RadanMac, Apple Iran boasts an impressive cast of
corporate customers for its services. Along with major Iranian
banks, they have included IRIB - Iran's state broadcasting
network - newspapers and magazines, Afghah said.
"There must be at least 1,000 editors in Iran now using
Macs, if not more," he estimated.
Neither government officials nor editors responded to
requests for comment on whether they used Apple technology.
In recent months, Afghah said, Apple Iran has seen sales
decline because of tough new sanctions imposed by the U.S. and
its allies against Iran's financial sector. The new measures
have caused Iran's currency, the rial, to plummet and made
international payments from Iranian banks much more complex.
The company relies on a steady stream of creative
individuals - including musicians, film editors and
photographers - to keep its business going.
Tavassoli set up RadanMac - in Farsi, the word "radan" means
"the one who does everything correctly" - after his employer, a
Middle Eastern computer company, pulled out of Iran. He had
worked there as a service engineer for Apple products.
Left with the company's spare parts, he said he invested a
few thousand dollars and spent the next 15 years combining his
love of Apple technology with trying to make a living out of it.
"To start with, it was really tough," said the 51-year-old.
"Four of my colleagues gave up and moved back to the States. But
I love what I do."
Despite the sanctions, Tavassoli said there was no shortage
of business because of Iranians' love for the latest technology.
Still, sales come with major headaches and taking big investment
Like many traders, he prefers to order directly from
distributors in Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia. But the
tightening embargoes against Iran's financial system since the
beginning of this year now make direct shipments more
problematic, especially if they are large.
He can use Dubai or Turkey as an alternative transit point
but that incurs additional duties and shipping fees. Iranian
customs also needs to be paid: around 4% for portable products
and a whopping 60% for larger components, such as desktop iMacs
Even so, prices often remain competitive with authorized
Apple dealers outside Iran. The lowest spec MacBook Pro was
priced in Tehran this month at around $1,250, compared to $1,200
(before tax) for the slightly updated model in New York. This is
significantly cheaper than buying the product in many European
capitals. The fluctuations in Iran's volatile open market dollar
rate mean that prices change every day.
Apple dealers in Iran often manage to obtain the company's
newest models within weeks of their release and at reasonable
prices. The latest releases also show up sooner via
opportunistic travelers who purchase them abroad and resell them
at highly inflated prices.
Obtaining spare parts poses particular challenges. RadanMac
draws customers by offering a one-year service contract with all
sales. "It's Iranian Apple Care," Tavassoli said with a chuckle,
alluding to the name of Apple's own technical support and
In the absence of a reliable supply of spare parts his team
often has to borrow from new computers to fix old ones. "It's
one of the most difficult issues we face," he says.
In the meantime, Iranian demand for Apple's own online
stores is rising, say Apple traders who report a sharp rise in
requests from customers.
Thirty-year-old computer engineer Sina, who didn't want his
family name to be published, said he set up an iTunes account
for his girlfriend after buying her an iPod.
Computer users in Iran trying to download directly from
iTunes eventually will see a "1009 error message," which
indicates that the service is blocked to the country from which
the connection is being made.
Sina said he circumvented the block on Iranian Internet
addresses by using a secure, virtual private network to access
the Apple website. Then he downloaded iTunes. He first tried to
register an account with a U.S. address he found on the
Internet, but encountered problems.
But a Canadian address worked. He also bought online a
Canadian gift card to make purchases. "Everything worked fine,"
He noted that many young Iranians use gift cards on iTunes
to buy games and apps, not music. "In Iran, music is mostly
piracy and just copied to iTunes from other sources," he said.
Iranian computer sellers agree the practice of outfoxing iTunes
is becoming very common in Iran.
Tavassoli says his company now focuses on Farsi-language
educational tools it has developed for its clients. He has
produced video tutorials, given seminars and produced an app for
iPhone users that is available on iTunes. "If you can provide
your customers with everything they need, you'll survive," said
the entrepreneur, who spent seven years in the United States.
Tavassoli's investment and hard work seem to have paid off.
But not being allowed contact with the company he has devoted
his career to remains an enduring source of frustration.
"Over the years I've personally installed more than 4,000
Macs here," he said. "Apple would be so damn proud of me and yet
it doesn't even know me. That hurts, that really hurts."