Parts for Tehran's Nuclear Program Was Siemens Involved in Dubious Trade?

REUTERS

Part 2: Russians Criticize German Position


Russia and Iran, for their part, are criticizing the German position as extreme. To support their argument, they cite parallel United Nations sanctions rules, which are not as strict as the EU rules. Under the UN rules, products can be shipped to Iran if they are intended exclusively for the civilian nuclear energy program.

Despite the existence of the UN sanctions, the EU countries apply their own, substantially more restrictive rules. And it is precisely those rules that prohibit shipments like the one recently discovered at Frankfurt Airport -- with only few exceptions. In Germany, a number of agencies are charged with enforcing the embargo, including the Federal Office of Economics and Export Control and the extremely active customs authorities.

Insiders report that German customs in Frankfurt have intercepted about half a dozen dubious shipments from various sources, including the Siemens parts that were stopped in early July. In most of the cases, the required export permit had not even been applied for.

Suspicious Shipments

Two shipments from Russia, containing computers, monitoring equipment and switch boxes, were intercepted in November and January. Atomstroyexport had engaged shipping companies to forward the products through Frankfurt Airport to Tehran and Bushehr. Lufthansa's cargo subsidiary was the shipper in at least one of the cases. The order confirmation, which SPIEGEL has obtained, clearly identified Iran's nuclear energy organization as the recipient.

A Lufthansa Cargo spokesman says that the company regrets the incident and points out that internal guidelines have since been tightened drastically. Nevertheless, the Frankfurt district attorney's office is investigating as yet unidentified company officials on the suspicion of violation of Germany's Foreign Trade Act.

The zealous customs officials discovered several other suspicious shipments in the months following the November and January incidents. In one case, the high-tech parts a Russian company had shipped from Moscow to Frankfurt were to be flown to Tehran after leaving Frankfurt Airport. Other problematic shipments were to be sent from Frankfurt to Moscow, then to Dubai and, finally, to Bushehr. Both options are banned under the EU's Iran embargo. According to internal documents, the identity of the final recipient was sometimes covered up in an effort to fool German customs officials, but the approach didn't always work.

Part of a Bigger Picture

Meanwhile, prosecutors in Frankfurt and the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia are investigating three German companies, among others, for possible violations of the Foreign Trade Act. Investigators have not yet revealed any names, partly for strategic reasons, but also in observance of the secrecy requirements applicable in such cases. However, Siemens, which may also have been deceived itself, is not yet a target in these investigations.

The dubious shipments German officials have uncovered to date are probably only part of a bigger picture. On its website, Atomstroyexport boasts that 12,000 tons of German parts have already been installed in Bushehr. Investigators must now determine which of those parts were installed long ago, when Siemens was still in charge of the reactor project, and which were procured more recently -- and illegally.

Although Atomstroyexport spokeswoman Olga Zylova was not willing to comment on the incidents directly, she insists that her company "absolutely does not" support a possible nuclear armament program in Iran and is involved exclusively in the development of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

'Illegal Actions'

Although officials with the German Customs Investigation Bureau in Cologne and the customs office at Frankfurt Airport are unwilling to confirm the reported incidents, they have unofficially admitted that various shipments were intercepted and that, in one case, customs officials refused to process a shipment altogether.

The customs officials' persistent actions have even triggered resentment at the highest political levels. In April, a representative of the Russian Embassy in Berlin delivered a strictly confidential letter of protest from the government in Moscow to the German Foreign Ministry. In the letter, the Russian Foreign Ministry sharply criticizes what it calls the "illegal actions of German authorities."

Soon afterwards, another note, worded even more sharply than the first one, arrived in Berlin. The way in which the Russian shipment was treated in Germany was "completely unacceptable," the note reads.

In the letter, which is defined as a "non-paper" (an unofficial message, in diplomatic speak), the Russian envoys indirectly accuse the German government of interfering with the free exchange of goods. To support their argument, they cite the more generous UN agreement on sanctions against Iran, which, Moscow argues, permits direct shipments from Russia to Iran via Dubai, for example. For this reason, the Russians write, they cannot understand why German authorities have repeatedly stopped shipments in Frankfurt, even those coming from foreign manufacturers, thereby forcibly imposing their own, stricter EU rules on Russia.

Rogue Nations

A Siemens spokesman insisted that his company strictly abides by all EU sanctions against Iran. He added that the company will make a point of excluding Iran, as well as nuclear powers Pakistan and North Korea, from its planned joint venture with Rosatom. According to the spokesman, Siemens will place other rogue nations on its list of excluded countries if necessary.

It seems that if the Russians want to do business in those countries, they will, as is already the case in Iran today, have to make do without their future partner Siemens.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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