Tags: China | Iran | missiles

Chinese Engineer Accused of Key Role in Iranian Missile Program

By    |   Thursday, 12 June 2014 10:57 AM

With international negotiators meeting in Geneva for talks on Iran’s nuclear program, the actions of accused weapons traffickers such as businessman Li Fangwei, a Chinese national, loom large over the discussions.

In April, the Justice Department announced that Li, already the target of a $5 million bounty from the State Department for his arrest, had been charged with money laundering, wire fraud and bank fraud in connection with illicit transactions with Iran. U.S. officials claim Li used “front companies” to conceal efforts to acquire items that can have both civilian and military uses “on behalf of Iran-based entities,” according to the Justice Department.

Li and his associates were doing business in New York City  in 2011, five years after U.S. officials asked the Chinese government to stop him, the indictment said.

U.S. prosecutors say Li, 42, an engineer based in northeastern China, has been “a principal contributor” to Tehran’s ballistic-missile program for years.

The Daily Beast reported that Li helped the Iranian Defense Ministry acquire gas centrifuges used to enrich uranium and high-strength metals used to build ballistic missiles. Tehran’s missile arsenal, shared with the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah, serves as a deterrent to an Israeli or U.S. military strike against its nuclear facilities.

In the event of a military conflict with the United States or Israel, Iran may target U.S. Navy vessels in the Persian Gulf or Israeli cities utilizing missiles manufactured with Li’s assistance.

Earlier this year, the Obama administration adopted Israel’s position that Tehran’s ballistic-missile program must be discussed in nuclear talks with Iran. The Islamic Republic flatly rejects the American stance.

Although China says it supports sanctions to curb Iran’s suspected nuclear-weapons ambitions, it has provided negligible substantive help.

After the U.S. government indicted Li in April, Beijing criticized the move, declaring that it “resolutely opposes” the use of U.S. law to enforce a ban on trading with Iran.

The State Department has tried and failed repeatedly to persuade Beijing to act against Li, who some experts liken to A.Q. Khan, a Pakistan-based nuclear scientist involved in proliferating nuclear technology to rogue states like Iran, North Korea and Libya.

Not since Khan “has a manufacturer of proliferation-sensitive technologies so brazenly and repeatedly sold their goods for use in prohibited programs despite ongoing attention from national and international authorities,” British intelligence analysts Daniel B. Salisbury and Ian J. Steward wrote in a recent profile of Li.

When U.S. diplomats complained in 2009 that Li had supplied Iran with a machine capable of manufacturing rocket motor cases and re-entry vehicle shells, a Chinese Foreign Ministry official rejected U.S. concerns, according to an April 2009 cable published by Wikileaks.

“China’s business is its own business,” the official said, adding that Li’s company would be regulated in accordance with China’s “very strict export control laws.”

But the communist regime did little to crack down. According to the indictment, Li’s dealings with Tehran continued through a network of front companies.

In a September 2009 cable, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton blamed “a lack of political will by Chinese authorities” to rein in Li.

After the United States, China and other world powers imposed stiffer sanctions on Iran in 2009, Li disappeared. In 2011, he reportedly played host to several Iranians at his factory where he builds machinery to produce a fiber used in gas centrifuges and ballistic missiles.

The indictment alleges that between 2010 and 2013, Li “repeatedly traveled” to Iran for extended periods of time to conduct business.

Washington “wants to put Tehran’s engineering ally out of business, but Beijing doesn’t care to help,” The Daily Beast concluded.

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With international negotiators meeting in Geneva for talks on Iran’s nuclear program, the actions of accused weapons traffickers such as businessman Li Fangwei, a Chinese national, loom large over the discussions.
China, Iran, missiles
Thursday, 12 June 2014 10:57 AM
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