A Chinese businessman has been indicted on charges of illegally using New York City banks to help Iran's military agencies buy materials to make nuclear weapons, Manhattan's chief prosecutor said Tuesday.
The 118-count indictment charges Li Fang Wei and his company LIMMT, identified years ago as fronts for Iran's illegal nuclear activities, with falsifying business records and with conspiracy to gain access to U.S. banks, prosecutors said.
Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau said one goal of the investigation was to make the public and the federal government aware that Iran is "deadly serious" about developing nuclear weapons technology.
Morgenthau said Li is in China and he will ask the government there to extradite him to the United States.
Besides sales of standard metal and mineral products to commercial customers on the global market, LIMMT sells sophisticated military materials to Iran's Defense Industries Organization (DIO), Morgenthau said. He said many materials LIMMT sells to Iran are banned from export to that country.
Morgenthau said the list of materials that LIMMT shipped to the Defense Industries Organization include thousands of pounds of a specialized aluminum alloy used almost exclusively in long range missile production and tantalum, a mineral used in armor piercing projectiles.
He said LIMMT and Iran also were in talks to have the company send 400 gyroscopes, 600 accelerometers, and 100 pieces of tantalum. He said gyroscopes and accelerometers are crucial technology for developing long range missiles.
Morgenthau said Li and LIMMT are banned from doing business in the U.S., so Li used shell companies and bank accounts with aliases to transfer money for dozens of Iranian transactions from November 2006 through September 2008.
The payments for the transactions were sent to and from Chinese banks that handled accounts for Li and his companies. Because 70 percent of the world's business is done in dollars, Morgenthau said, U.S. banks had to be used to process transactions. Because Li used banks in Manhattan, his office had jurisdiction over the prosecution, he said.
The U.S. Treasury Department issued a statement Tuesday saying it had identified eight aliases used by LIMMT Economic and Trade Company Ltd. to circumvent sanctions against Iran and was moving to freeze their assets. The department said it was acting to prevent weapons of mass destruction proliferators and those who support them from abusing the U.S. financial system for the benefit of Iran's nuclear weapons programs.
Morgenthau said international contacts tipped his office to Li and LIMMT's illegal activities on behalf of Iran.
The prosecutor said he is convinced that the American banks were completely deceived by Li and had no part in helping him carry out the illicit transactions. He credited the New York banks with helping in the investigation and he thanked the compliance departments of The Bank of New York Mellon, Citibank N.A., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Wachovia Bank/Wells Fargo N.A., Bank of America N.A., and Standard Chartered Bank.
LIMMT is headquartered in Dalian, China.