Belgian's arms trafficking hearing delayed by storm
A Belgian suspected arms dealer for Iran had his hearing has been postponed for a week due to tropical storm Ida's approach.
"The hearing was postponed to next Monday because of tropical storm Ida," said Arthur Madden, the lawyer representing Monsieur in federal court in Mobile.
An alleged co-conspirator in the case, Dara Fotouhi, 54, is still at large, according to the Justice Department. Both Monsieur and Fotouhi are French residents, and Fotouhi, an Iranian national, is suspected of working for the Iranian government.
The indictment against Monsieur says he contacted an undercover agent in February seeking to buy engines for the F-5 fighter or C-130 military transport aircraft to export to Iran.
The J85-21 model jet engines can be used to replace the motors in the F-5 fighter that was sold to Iran by the United States before the two countries cut ties after Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution.
Today, they are on a US list barring their export from the United States without a special permit. It is also illegal to export them to Iran without an additional license from the US Treasury Department.
In March, Monsieur allegedly met the undercover agent in Paris, and during a follow-up meeting in May in London introduced Fotouhi as his business associate.
On both occasions he discussed exporting F-5 engines to Iran, and urged the agent to provide shipping documents which showed the end user was based in Colombia.
The following month, Monsieur emailed the undercover agent with a purchase order for F-5 fighter jet parts from a front company for an organization known as Trast Aero Space, located in Kyrgyzstan.
The order asked that the parts be exported to the United Arab Emirates for transshipment to Iran, the Justice Department statement said.
In July, Monsieur allegedly contacted the agent to say that 110,000 dollars had been wired from Dubai to a bank account in Alabama as payment for the parts and that a deposit of 300,000 dollars would also be coming as down payment for two F-5 jet engines.
Monsieur is not new to the arms-shipping trade. In late 2002 he was sentenced to 40 months in prison in Belgium for having sold "huge quantities" of arms, including grenade launchers and missile parts, to Iran, China, Ecuador, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia in the 1980s and 1990s.
He has also spent time in prison in Iran and Turkey.
The storm Ida was set to make landfall in Mississippi early Tuesday, but tropical force winds were expected to reach from Louisiana to Florida as early as Monday afternoon.AFP/Expatica