A Minnesota company was duped into exporting sensitive technology that wound up being shipped to Iran in violation of U.S. export controls, according to a recently unsealed federal indictment.
The indictment names a Malaysian company and two former employees, accusing them of shipping the components to an Iranian firm with close ties to the Iranian government.
The indictment doesn’t name the Minnesota company, but a subsequent court filing includes a screenshot of an e-mail addressed to Thief River Falls-based Digi-Key, a large distributor of electronic components such as capacitors, oscillators and integrated circuits.
According to the charges, the company believed it was sending digital communications equipment to “Green Wave Telecommunication, Sdn Bhn” in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. But Green Wave later sent the devices to Iran in violation of export controls that cite “national security and anti-terrorism reasons,” according to the indictment.
The devices appear to be “dual use” technology, which can be used in civilian products or in weapons guidance systems that would fall under international export controls.
Prosecutors also charged Alireza Jalali, Green Wave’s former head of purchasing, and Negar Ghodskani, a woman who simultaneously worked for Green Wave and the Iranian recipient of the technology at the time of the alleged conspiracy.
The case, first charged in December 2015, remained secret until June of this year, when Jalali was arrested at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.
Court filings detail a joint investigation by the U.S. Department of Commerce, FBI and Homeland Security and outline a conspiracy that allegedly unfolded between August 2010 and March 2012. Green Wave, Jalali and Ghodskani are charged with conspiring to defraud the United States, smuggling, making false statements and money laundering. Jalali is the only defendant currently in the U.S. awaiting trial.
According to the charges, Green Wave purchased “analog-to-digital converters” and other communications devices from the Minnesota company and other sensitive goods from an unnamed Massachusetts business. Ghodskani, who discussed product availability, price and shipping logistics with the U.S. companies, allegedly worked for both Green Wave and an Iranian company since identified as Tehran-based Fanavari Moj Khavar, or Fana Moj.
Ghodskani allegedly manipulated her e-mail signature when communicating with U.S. companies to falsely suggest she was working out of Malaysia. Jalali is accused of repackaging and exporting the equipment to Iran without a license and misrepresenting transactions between Green Wave and the Iranian firm in an effort to conceal shipments of the American goods.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Minneapolis declined to comment, and both Green Wave Telecommunication and lawyers for Jalali did not return messages seeking comment on Friday. Ghodskani has not appeared in court and does not have an attorney listed in Minnesota.
A Digi-Key spokeswoman said Friday that officials were not available for comment.
After reviewing the 24-page indictment, Paul Vaaler, a University of Minnesota law professor, said Green Wave appeared to have had “a substantial history” of serving as an intermediary for Iran and fits the profile of typical cases of skirting export control laws.
“It’s small players — it’s individuals, it’s shell companies — that provide connections between legitimate exporters in the U.S. and illegitimate importers in these prohibited nation states,” Vaaler said.
According to charges, Fana Moj has “close commercial relations” with public entities like the Iran Electronics Industry, Iran Communications Industry and Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting. The U.S. Treasury Department has sanctioned IEI and ICI for their ties to the country’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, and the IRIB is on the Treasury’s “specially designated nationals” list.
It’s unclear what prompted the investigation, but authorities were interested in possible violations of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. The Commerce Department, under the IEEPA, restricts exporting goods that it determined “could make a significant contribution to the military potential of other nations or that could be detrimental to the foreign policy or national security” of the U.S.
The converters sent to Iran are also subject to the Wassenaar Arrangement, an international export control regime of 41 countries that replaced a Cold War-era committee monitoring transfers of arms and dual-use goods and technologies.
The charges in Minnesota carry maximum possible sentences of up to 20 years in prison and $1 million in fines. Jalali made his first appearance in June.
A federal magistrate judge in Minneapolis approved a search warrant recently for four electronic devices seized from Jalali during his arrest. Jalali confirmed in interviews with law enforcement officials after his arrest that he worked for Green Wave from 2011 to 2015, first as head of purchasing and later for research and development. He also said that he has maintained contact with former associates.
He is scheduled to return to court on Sept. 27 for a motions hearing, but his attorneys are asking that the hearing be rescheduled to Oct. 27 to allow more time to review evidence they received just this week after “a series of technical difficulties.”