US targets network supporting Iran's drone, weapons programs

Illustration shows USA and Iranian flags
USA and Iranian flags are seen in this illustration taken, September 8, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

WASHINGTON, March 21 (Reuters) - The United States on Tuesday imposed sanctions on four entities and three people in Iran and Turkey, accusing them of involvement in the procurement of equipment, including European-origin engines of drones, in support of Iran's drone and weapons programs.

The U.S. Treasury Department said in a statement the procurement network operates on behalf of Iran's Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics.

It marks the latest move by Washington targeting Iran's unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) industry. The U.S. earlier this month imposed sanctions on a China-based network over accusations it has shipped aerospace parts to an Iranian company involved in the production of drones that Tehran has used to attack oil tankers and exported to Russia.

"Iran’s well-documented proliferation of UAVs and conventional weapons to its proxies continues to undermine both regional security and global stability,” Treasury's Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, Brian Nelson, said in the statement.

Iran's mission to the United Nations in New York did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Among those designated was Iran-based Defense Technology and Science Research Center (DTSRC), Amanallah Paidar, who Treasury said has served as a commercial manager and procurement agent for DTSRC, and Farazan Industrial Engineering Inc, established by Paidar.

Turkish citizen Murat Bukey was also designated. The Treasury accused him of facilitating the procurement of a variety of goods with defense applications, including chemical and biological detection devices.

A federal court in the District of Columbia unsealed two indictments on Tuesday charging multiple defendants, including several targeted in Tuesday's sanctions, over their roles in schemes to procure and export U.S. technology to Iran between 2005 and 2013, the Justice Department said in a statement.

Paidar and Bukey "exported from the U.S. and transshipped through Turkey a device that can test the efficacy and power of fuel cells and attempted to obtain a bio-detection system that has application in weapons of mass destruction (WMD) research and use," the statement said of the first indictment.

Bukey was extradited to the U.S. from Spain in July last year, and pleaded guilty in December. He was sentenced on Monday, the statement said, adding that Paidar is a fugitive.

Defendants charged in the second indictment "conspired to obtain U.S. technology, including a high-speed camera that has known nuclear and ballistic missile testing applications," through their companies, the statement said.

Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis, Humeyra Pamuk and Katharine Jackson in Washington and Costas Pitas in Los Angeles Editing by Marguerita Choy

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