From Minnesota firm to Iraq roadside bombs

  • Article by: DAN BROWNING and JIM SPENCER
  • Star Tribune staff writers
  • October 26, 2011 - 6:40 AM

A Minnesota manufacturer was allegedly duped into supplying radio devices to Singapore that later turned up in roadside bombs in Iraq, according to an indictment unsealed Tuesday in Washington, D.C.

The company, identified by CBS News as Minnetonka-based Digi International, has not been accused of any wrongdoing and faces no charges. The company, established in 1985, makes networking devices and has sales offices throughout North America, Europe and Asia.

Company officials reached on Tuesday said they had no comment on the case. "But our opinion is that use of commercial products in these ways is reprehensible," the company said in an e-mailed statement.

Four Singaporeans and one Iranian were indicted, along with four of their companies, as part of a conspiracy that allegedly involved illegal shipment of about 6,000 radio-frequency modules from the United States to Iran. At least 16 of the modules were later found in unexploded improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Iraq, according to the indictment.

Some of the defendants are also charged in a fraud conspiracy for the unlicensed export of military aircraft antennas to Singapore and Hong Kong.

The 13-month-old indictment does not name Digi or the Massachusetts company that shipped the aircraft antennas.

"The Minnesota company is not charged with any wrongdoing. They were lied to continually. They were told the modules were going to a telecommunications project in Singapore," said Dean Boyd, a spokesman with the Department of Justice.

On Monday, authorities in Singapore arrested Yuh Lan Wong, 39, Lim Yong Nam, 37, Lim Kow Seng, 42, and Soo Gan Benson Hia, 44, all citizens of Singapore, pending a U.S. extradition request. The other defendant, Hossein Larijani, 47, is a citizen and resident of Iran and remains free.

The four Singaporeans conspired to defraud the United States by circumventing U.S. export controls on the radio-frequency modules, the FBI said in a statement. Seng and Hia also face charges in connection with the shipment of military antennas from a Massachusetts company to Singapore and Hong Kong.

Wi-Fi's dark side

Radio-frequency modules can be used in commercial applications such as wireless local area networks connecting printers and computers. The modules made in Minnesota include encryption capabilities and have a range allowing them to transmit data as far as 40 miles, the indictment says.

"These same modules also have potentially lethal applications. Notably, during 2008 and 2009, coalition forces in Iraq recovered numerous modules made by the Minnesota firm that had been utilized as part of the remote detonation system for IEDs," the FBI said in a prepared statement about the case.

The 49-page indictment alleges that between June 2007 and February 2008, the defendants bought more than half a million dollars' worth of radio-frequency modules from Minnesota and had them delivered in five shipments to Singapore. Larijani then had Wong forward them to Iran via Malaysia or Thailand, it says.

The indictment also says Larijani made false statements about doing business with an accused Iranian procurement agent and that he attempted to obstruct an official proceeding by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Larijani's companies, Paya Electronics Complex, based in Iran, and Opto Electronics Pte Ltd., based in Singapore, also were charged. Wong is described as an agent of Opto Electronics who was allegedly supervised by Larijani from Iran.

The indictment also charges NEL Electronics Pte. Ltd., a company Nam owns in Singapore, and Corezing International Pte. Ltd., a company in Singapore that has offices in China. Seng is an agent of Corezing, and Hia is a manager, director and agent of the firm.

A tangled tale

Twelve pages of the indictment detail the negotiations for the Minnesota-made modules, which initially quoted a price of $98.45 per module. Wong countered with an offer of $60, noting that the end user was a company in Singapore. The Minnesota company said the best it could do was $93.50 unless Wong provided more details about the end user, the indictment says. After some back and forth, they settled in August 2007 on a price of $85, or $510,000 for the 6,000 modules.

The indictment says the defendants caused the Minnesota manufacturer to file false export documents stating the modules were to be used in a telecommunications project in Singapore. But it also notes Seng met with an employee of the company in Singapore and said the modules were for a customer in the Philippines for use in a wireless broadband application.

Not long after that, Nam provided Larijani with a news article that talked about the U.S. government's efforts to "crack down on companies believed to be smuggling equipment to Iran to build explosive devices killing American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan," the indictment says.

Two days later, it says, Corezing ordered 2,000 modules from Minnesota. Fifteen of those were recovered from IEDs in Iraq from 2008 to 2010. (Another was recovered from a different shipment.)

In November 2007, the module maker sent Corezing a form from the Bureau of Industry and Security that asked what the devices would be used for and by whom. Seng responded that Corezing couldn't respond because of a nondisclosure agreement with the customer. After receiving a signed a nondisclosure agreement, however, Corezing responded by saying the modules would be used for a telecom project in Singapore by NEL Electronics.

© 2018 Star Tribune