German customs investigation unit: Iran violates sanctions by purchasing nuclear technology

Iran employs front companies to disguise its illegal purchases, German daily quotes customs agency as saying.

Iranian workers stand in front of the Bushehr nuclear power plant. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Iranian workers stand in front of the Bushehr nuclear power plant.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Iran sought components in Germany for its nuclear program over the past few months.
The German Federal Customs Service’s investigative unit (ZKA) reported the efforts, the large German daily Der Tagesspiegel wrote on Sunday.
“We continue to observe criminal nuclear proliferation activity,” ZKA president Norbert Drude said.
Iran employs front companies to disguise its illegal purchases, and tried to use them in dozens of cases to obtain sanctioned goods. Iran was successful in some cases.
The German government has tried to improve enforcement in its porous system of export control. The country’s Federal Office for Economic Affairs and Export Control continues, however, to approve the sale of dual-use technology to Iran. Dual-Use merchandise can be used for military or civilian purposes. The regulatory agency refuses to name the German firms involved in dual-use trade.
Iran’s regime is well known to German custom agents for violating the country’s export law, Der Tagesspiegel reported.
In 2012 and 2013, more than two-third of the 264 investigations involved the Islamic Republic, Drude said. He said he expects the proportion to remain the same this year.
Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, has traditionally been Iran’s most important trading partner in the 28-nation European Union.
Data from the German Statistics Office seen by Reuters show that exports to Iran rose by 32.7%, to €1.6 billion, in the first eight months of the year compared to the same period last year, lifted by an easing of Western sanctions after an interim deal on its nuclear work. In 2013, they slumped by 26% and in the two previous years they fell by more than 18%.
While the amounts are small, the data is something of a bright spot for Germany, whose export-oriented economy is suffering from modest global growth and weakness in much of the European market. Its exports to Russia have plunged due to the sanctions against Moscow over the Ukraine crisis.
Iran and six world powers, including Germany, reached an interim deal last November under which Tehran received limited sanctions relief in exchange for halting the production of medium enriched uranium.
“These relatively small steps have been like a lever starting a bigger movement,” said Jens Nagel of the BGA exporters’ and wholesalers’ association.
“The German economy especially could profit from a relaxation [in the sanctions],” he said, adding there was demand in Iran for German machines, vehicles and chemicals.
Several major companies such as Siemens had been forced to reduce their activities in Iran due to the sanctions.
Other companies with business interests there include Bayer and utilities RWE and E.ON.
Reuters contributed to this report.