Man pleads guilty in Iran missile case

Taiwanese businessman allegedly conspired to violate US embargo.

May 13, 2010 19:53
2 minute read.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad watches as a

Iran missiles 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)


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A Taiwanese businessman pleaded guilty Thursday to federal charges arising from an undercover investigation into the illegal export to Iran of items that can be used for missiles, unmanned drones and other military purposes.

Yi-Lan Chen, 40, pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate the US embargo against Iran and attempting to export prohibited goods that have dual civilian and military uses. Chen, a citizen of Taiwan who used the name "Kevin Chen," also entered guilty pleas on behalf of his Landstar Tech Co.

The maximum prison term for each count is 20 years, but Chen will likely receive a much lighter sentence because he is cooperating with an ongoing investigation into banned exports to Iran. US District Judge Adalberto Jordan set sentencing for July 30. Chen also faces more than $2 million in fines.

Chen, dressed in a tan prison jumpsuit, said little at the hearing except to quietly answer Jordan's questions through a Mandarin Chinese translator.

Chen was arrested in February in Guam in the midst of a transaction to ship to Iran some 8,500 glass-to-metal seals and 120 military-grade connectors. Commerce Department investigators said he had arranged at least 30 banned shipments to Iran since 2007, falsely telling US-based suppliers in Lakewood, New Jersey, Cincinnati and elsewhere that the goods were destined for Hong Kong or Taiwan.

In one August 2009 e-mail exchange with a buyer in Tehran, Iran, Chen described his practices this way: "As you know we cannot tell USA this connector is for you. So we have to tell a white lie to USA that this is for our factory in Hong Kong."

Court documents show that investigators learned of Chen's activities after he tried to arrange for the export of 2,000 detonators through an unnamed California company. Search warrants were obtained for Chen's e-mail accounts from South Florida judges, which is one reason he was brought to Florida to face the charges.

The e-mails show Chen shipped two P200 Turbine engines and spare parts to Iran via Hong Kong in 2007, labeling them on an invoice as "a starter for a car and wheels." The engines can be used in model aircraft but also for military drones.

In October 2009, Chen began communicating via e-mail with a Fort Lauderdale-based undercover federal agent posing as representative of a supplier company. The undercover agent described to Chen how he was able to get around US rules on the embargo against Iran.

In one December 2009 e-mail, Chen mentioned that he didn't want to try to obtain big-ticket items.

"What we want is to do the business by means of safe and low profile then nobody gets hurt," he wrote, according to court documents.

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