A Chinese national who became an international fugitive after he was accused of smuggling US-made equipment used to process weapons-grade uranium into Iran was brought to Boston Friday to face charges in federal court.
Sihai Cheng, who is in his 30s, is suspected of leading a conspiracy to export hundreds of pressure-measuring sensors, or transducers, into Iran. Transducers are commonly used in manufacturing, but can also be used in gas centrifuges to convert natural uranium into a form suitable for nuclear weapons.
The federal smuggling case, investigated by the FBI, was brought in Massachusetts because the equipment Cheng allegedly smuggled was manufactured by MKS Instruments Inc., an Andover company.
Authorities believe the company sent the transducers to China without knowing they would be exported to Iran. A spokeswoman for MKS said the company, which is not under investigation, is cooperating with authorities, but she could not comment further.
Cheng, also known as Chun Hai Cheng and Alex Cheng, is scheduled to appear in US District Court in Boston on Monday on charges of conspiracy to commit export violations, illegal exporting of goods to Iran, and smuggling goods.
He faces up to 20 years in prison on some of the charges, and a $4 million fine.
Cheng, who was indicted last year, was arrested during a trip to the United Kingdom in February, but fought extradition to the United States.
He was brought to Massachusetts Friday and was being held in federal custody. The identity of his lawyer was not immediately known.
More than 1,000 orders for MKS transducers, with a combined value of more than $1.8 million, were placed from 2009 to 2011, according to a federal indictment.
Authorities say Cheng set up an elaborate scheme, working with Iranian national Seyed Abolfazl Shabab Jamili, and two Iranian companies, Nicaro Eng. Co. Ltd., known as Nicaro, and Eyvaz Technic Manufacturing Co., known as Eyvaz.
Jamili, who worked for Eyvaz, is also wanted by US authorities, who have requested his arrest through Interpol.
The Council of the European Union in 2011 designated Eyvaz as an entity “involved in [Iran’s] nuclear or ballistic missile activities” and imposed sanctions against the company.
The European Union found that Eyvaz had produced vacuum equipment, which it supplied to two of Iran’s uranium nuclear enrichment facilities, Natanz and Fordow.
Eyvaz also supplied pressure transducers to Kalaye Electric Co., an Iranian company that has been designated by the United States and the United Nations as a “proliferator of weapons of mass destruction,” the US attorney’s office said.
According to authorities, Cheng had hundreds of pressure transducers sent to companies in China, under the guise they would be used for legitimate business.
Cheng then allegedly had the parts distributed to Jamili and the company Eyvaz, in violation of US export laws.
Jamili described the types of projects for which he was procuring parts for the Iran government in e-mails with Cheng, according to the indictment. In a March 2007 e-mail, ‘‘Jamili confided to Cheng that the parts he was supplying are needed in Iran for ‘a very big project and secret one,’ ’’ the indictment states.
Because pressure transducers can be used in gas centrifuges to convert natural uranium into a form that can be used in nuclear weapons, they can only be shipped to certain countries, and they cannot be shipped to Iran.
According to Cheng’s federal indictment, by 2007, Iran had been operating thousands of gas centrifuges at the uranium enrichment facility Natanz, and had sought and illegally obtained MKS pressure transducers to use in the plant.
Those transducers can be seen in publicly available photos of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the Natanz facility, according to the indictment.
Iran has maintained that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, though the country has been accused of trying to develop weapons of mass destruction.
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