BERLIN – A senior aide to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad used his trips in 2012 to Vienna to circumvent sanctions, according to the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

The aide launched a money laundering operation to acquire technology for the Islamic Republic, Dr. Shimon Samuels, the center’s director for international relations, told The Jerusalem Post during a phone interview on Friday.

“Austria is a hub of abuse for money launders. This is not a Jewish or Israeli issue. This is a European issue. This is a weak link in the chain of banking,” Samuels said.

He called on the EU to monitor its member countries and penalize Austria for its failure to enforce Iran sanctions.

Writing in the British Daily Telegraph in late October, foreign affairs correspondent Damien McElroy first reported on the Iranian agent, who is a senior departmental director from Iran’s Center for Innovation and Technology Cooperation. The US Treasury Department has sanctioned both the agent and the Center for Innovation and Technology Cooperation for illicit nuclear proliferation activity.

According to the Telegraph report, “At least two visits this year to Vienna by a senior departmental director have been used to carry out transactions worth millions of euros, according to sources. Western officials confirmed the official is a regular visitor to the Austrian capital and has traveled for extended stays each year since 2007.”

The agent’s network involves deliveries that are “handed to money lenders in Austria, Germany and Italy. Payments from the network have been documented as transfers to accounts as far as Russia and China to pay for goods that are subsequently sent to Iran,” the Telegraph continued.

In a telephone interview with the Post on Saturday, a spokesman for Austria’s Interior Ministry said there is “no criminal investigation” in connection with the agent and the center. Asked if the Austrian domestic intelligence agency probed the money laundering operation and the center, he said, “The findings are not public.” The Interior Minister spokesman referred to sections of the domestic intelligence agency’s 2012 report about Iran’s activities in Austria.

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According to the 2012 report, “In the period under review, concrete proliferation-relevant activities were observed in connection with North Korea and Iran.” The report noted, “It can be assumed that these developments will continue in 2012 and that the conflict with the Islamic Republic of Iran will intensify.”

Samuels slammed Austria’s laxity toward Iran sanctions. “This is not a new story for Austria. Austria has been behaving like this for a while,” he said. It is disturbing that the Austrian authorities remain indifferent because Austrian banks are “down the road from the International Atomic Energy Agency,” he stressed.

The IAEA is the Vienna-based nuclear watchdog agency.

“Austria is behaving today with proactive neutrality like Switzerland during World War II... serving the devil and working both sides of the fence.”

Samuels added that the modern Austrian state came into formation “after WWII on the basis of neutrality, but neutrality means obligations to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the Council of Europe.”

Samuels plans to raise his organization’s concerns about Austria at the next OSCE meeting.

Asked about Samuel’s criticism of Austria’s behavior and its conduct recalling the Swiss during the Second World War, the Austrian Interior Ministry spokesman said he would not comment “concretely on the WWII period” and the parallel to the Swiss.

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