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Thursday, September 03, 2009

US foils plot to export fighter jet parts to Iran

The United States has foiled a plot to export F-5 fighter jet engines and parts to Iran to help the Iranians upgrade their depleted air force. Two arms dealers who live in France are behind the plot. One of them, a Belgian national (pictured below), was arrested on Friday in New York. The other, an Iranian national is still at large.

An examination of the past activities of the Belgian national, Jacques Monsieur, shows that he has extensive connections to Iran, and even attempted to obtain uranium for the Islamic Republic in September 1999. While the current charges only relate to jet engine parts, it would not be at all surprising if Monsieur's activities include much more.

Monsieur also has connections to Israel's Mossad, and was one of the arms dealers involved in the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980's.
The indictment alleges that in February 2009, Monsieur contacted an undercover agent seeking engines for the F-5 (EIF) fighter jet or the C-130 military transport aircraft for export to Iran. Thereafter, Monsieur began regular e-mail contact with the undercover agent regarding requested F-5 engines and parts.

These engines, known as J85-21 models, are replacement engines for the F-5 fighter jet that was sold to Iran by the U.S. before the 1979 Iranian revolution. It is prohibited to export the engines and parts without a license from the U.S. State Department. Additionally, these items may not be exported to Iran without a license from the U.S. Treasury Department due to the U.S. trade embargo on Iran.

The charges stated that in March 2009, Monsieur met with an undercover agent in Paris, where Monsieur again requested engines and parts for the F-5 fighter jet. In May 2009, an undercover agent met with Monsieur in London, where Monsieur introduced Dara Fotouhi as a business partner, and again discussed the illegal export of F-5 fighter jet engines from the U.S. to Iran. During this negotiation, the defendants allegedly asked the undercover agent if he could obtain or use U.S. shipping or export authorization documents that falsely indicated that the end user of the items would be located in Colombia.

In June 2009, Monsieur sent an e-mail to the undercover agent and provided a purchase order for F-5 fighter jet parts from a front company for an organization known as Trast Aero Space, located in Kyrgyzstan. The order requested that the parts be located by the undercover agent and illegally shipped to Iran via Saudi Arabia.

The following month, Monsieur allegedly contacted the undercover agent indicating that about $110,000 had been wired from Dubai to a U.S. bank account as payment for the parts. He also ensured that he would deposit a $300,000 down payment for two F-5 fighter jet engines. In August 2009, Monsieur requested information from the undercover agent about his contact in Colombia for forwarding the aircraft parts from Colombia to Saudi Arabia.
Arms to Iran being shipped via Saudi Arabia? Why would anyone be surprised by that?

Monsieur (pictured) is apparently a well-known arms dealer, who has also tried to buy uranium for the Iranians in the past. (This article is from 2002):
Over a three-month period in 1997, Lissouba's government ordered more than $60 million in arms. A dozen shipments brought helicopters, rockets, missiles and bombs from a handful of countries to Congo-Brazzaville. Executives of the French state-owned company, Elf Aquitaine – which pumped oil from the country and was a longtime player in its various changes in government, often befriending both sides – had arranged a loan backed by the country's future petroleum production to pay for the armaments. Yet Lissouba was forced to flee before the payments could be made, leaving the middleman who had arranged the shipments owed millions of dollars.

That middleman, Jacques Monsieur, was not the sort of man to write off his losses. Believed to be among the biggest arms traffickers in Europe, Monsieur had violated a United Nations embargo by shipping arms to Bosnia and Croatia during the long bloody conflict in those countries, with the approval, he later claimed, of both the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and the Direction de Surveillance de Territoire (DST), the French domestic intelligence service. He later forfeited his good relations with Washington by acting as an importer-exporter of arms for the Islamic Republic of Iran, for whom he also tried to procure uranium. He worked closely with executives from the French oil giant, Elf Aquitaine, the state-owned petroleum company that, until its merger with TotalFina in 2000 to form TotalFinaElf, was the sixth largest oil producer in the world. Though he had aroused the ire of U.S. government officials and was under investigation by French and Belgian law enforcement authorities, Monsieur lived openly in France, all the while violating international sanctions by shipping arms to war-torn countries.


Monsieur's career, including his dispute over the unpaid weapons he shipped to the Lissouba government in 1997, illustrates that often arms traders who are ostensibly profit-seeking freelancers actually serve the interests of Western intelligence services and corporate elites. They violate U.N. arms embargoes with the implicit – sometimes explicit – approval of government officials, and attempt to tip the balance in armed conflicts for the benefits of business interests.
And here are some more biographical details about Monsieur:
A Belgian born on March 31, 1953, Monsieur, nicknamed "the field marshal," had been active in arms trading since the 1980s. He was a participant in the Iran-Contra affair, but the first solid information about his dealings came from the Belgian federal police, who in 1986 found a suitcase in Brussels that belonged to him.

The documents in his suitcase revealed that Monsieur was in contact with the Israeli intelligence service Mossad, as well as Iran, and that he had been attempting to export Armbrust grenade launchers – German-built light anti-tank weapons — without a license. Monsieur obtained false "end user" certificates from other countries, especially the former Zaire.

This first investigation of his activities, however, led nowhere. According to Belgian law, Armbrust launchers are regarded as "hunting weapons," not weapons of war. Though he had not broken Belgian law, European law enforcement authorities began to keep track of Monsieur.

But law enforcement authorities weren't the only ones with an interest in the Belgian arms dealer. Monsieur had very good contacts in France, both with the DST and executives from Elf Aquitaine. France appeared to be the protector of Monsieur, who had relocated his operations there in 1993. For six years, while authorities from Europe continued investigating his activities, he lived there openly, despite growing evidence of his involvement in illegal arms trading. In 1999, French authorities indicted him for his weapons trafficking. The court proceedings that followed revealed more information about his career – and his connections to the DST and Elf executives.
Monsieur apparently never stopped dealing with Iran:
The Shiite fundamentalists who took power in Tehran in 1978 inherited weapons originally purchased by the Shah's regime. But they had difficulty maintaining and upgrading their military hardware, not least because of a U.S. arms embargo on the country following the 1979 embassy hostage crisis. The Iranian government did business with Monsieur because he was able to provide it with new flight and defense material and spare parts from the United States.

According to his own documents, in 1992 Monsieur transmitted to the Iranian Air Force plans devised by the French company, Matra, for adapting its "Magic-2 Air to Air" missile to the Phantom F-4 aircraft.

In 1992, Monsieur attempted to deliver Electron radar material to Iran. Electron is the radar system that tracks Hawk surface-to-air missiles. It is unclear whether that radar material was delivered, but Monsieur did sell Tehran a key technology that is currently used by Iranian airports for civil aviation, according to an intelligence document.

Monsieur acted as an import-export agent for the Iranian military. In addition to radar systems and aircraft missiles, he proposed selling Bell-Agusta helicopters to Iran. And on Aug. 22, 1996, Monsieur suggested to the Iranians that they export weapons to the small central African state of Burundi, a neighbor of Rwanda, in violation of a U.N. weapons embargo, according to sources involved in investigating the affair. The military head of state, the ethnic Tutsi Pierre Buyoya, had seized power in a coup the previous month, threatening to plunge the country into a new round of ethnic bloodletting between Hutus and Tutsis.

In a document obtained by Belgian police, Monsieur asked the Iranians their prices for mortars, assault rifles, ammunitions and light artillery to be sold to Burundi. He said that he would deliver the bulk by air with an Ilyushin 76, and reassured his Iranian counterparts that if they had the slightest concern about the destination of the weapons, he could find "other end users," suggesting that, as he had done with the Armbrust launchers, Monsieur would falsify the documentation. Neither the French nor the Belgian investigators were able to determine whether the deal ever went through.

By this time, U.S. Customs officials had seen enough. In 1996 they convinced Belgium to launch an investigation of Monsieur. Soon afterwards, French authorities began their own investigation into the sale of Stinger FIM-92A missiles to Iran. Monsieur was by then living in Bourges, France, and presented himself as a horse breeder.

Despite the investigations, Monsieur was still able to deliver weapons – some of them from Iran – to Congo-Brazzaville in the summer of 1997.
The Iranians arrested Monsieur in 2000 and charged him with spying.
Monsieur was scheduled to testify in a French court at the end of 2000, but he disappeared in November. He turned up in Iran, where he faced another legal proceeding. On Nov.19, 2000, Branch Three of the Tehran Revolutionary Court arrested Monsieur and charged him with "spying and collecting classified information." Tehran had a long record of relations with Monsieur. Business letters between Modelex, the state-owned arms manufacturing company, and Monsieur show how closely the arms trafficker had worked with Iranian officials. In the letters, Modelex, Monsieur, Tarallo and Sigolet appear to be working together as a unit.

There's no question that Tehran was extremely well informed about the man they had arrested. Monsieur had worked closely with the Iranian regime to aid its arms exporting and its pursuit of raw materials, including some nuclear materials. Fourteen months prior to his arrest in Tehran, Monsieur was still negotiating with the Democratic Republic of Congo a "barter" of Iranian weapons for "copper, cobalt, uranium 294, 298, 380, thorium, titanium…"

Some of the circumstances of Monsieur's captivity led French authorities to believe, at least at first, that the arms trafficker had eluded French justice by having the Iranians stage a mock arrest and detention. For example, Monsieur was unable to receive visitors in his Iranian jail, uncommon even in Iran. He also had given orders related to the maintenance of his property in France before traveling to – and being arrested in – Iran, suggesting he knew he might be gone for some time.

But from the beginning of 2001, it became clear that Monsieur was genuinely detained against his will. In early 2001, a single handwritten fax issued by the Iranian lawyer representing Monsieur reached his Parisian attorneys. According to the fax, Tehran knew that the Iranian weapon operations of the Belgian trafficker could have resulted in the payment of illicit commissions to Iranians, deposited into their Dubai bank accounts in amounts ranging from $17,000 to $25,000. In the same fax, Monsieur indirectly let his European lawyers know where they could find documents that could help prove he worked with knowledge and approval of the Iranian government.

In December 2001, Monsieur was finally sentenced behind closed doors in Tehran and declared "dischargeable on bail." During his detention, the last $1 million installment for the weapons delivered to Lissouba had been paid. But the payments appear to raise more questions about Monsieur's dealings in Iranian arms and African wars. When Monsieur told his lawyers "in which place, unknown until then to the French investigators" they could find documents he hoped would clear him of the charges in Iran, the Belgian trafficker unwittingly gave French investigators a new lead in their case.
Read the whole thing.

I suspect strongly that Monsieur was not just trafficking in jet engine parts. Based on his past, that would seem to be beneath him. More details as this story develops.


For those wondering about the F-5:
The F-5 fighter was developed in the late 1950s as a small, versatile supersonic fighter, often delivered to U.S. allies during the Cold War.
There must be more to this than parts and engines for a 50-year old fighter jet.

Here are a couple more interesting questions:
In 2004, in the sole press interview Monsieur has ever given [link in French. CiJ], he told Radio France Internationale that he wasn’t an arms dealer but was instead a spy and that his job as an arms merchant was just a cover. In fact, Monsieur claimed he had “relations” with the CIA, which he “preferred” not to describe in detail. He also claimed to be acting for the DST, the French counter-espionage agency. Needless to say this is neither a surprising nor a credible defense to charges that he was running arms to countries subject to international embargoes.

Of course, all this raises several questions. Why would Monsieur, after being convicted and imprisoned in Iran for espionage then attempt to acquire aircraft parts for Iran or, as this post title asks, why would he start feeding the hand that bit him? Or perhaps the mysteriously commuted ten year sentence was a ruse of some sort.

Even more intriguing, what on earth was Monsieur doing flying to New York? Or perhaps the flight wasn’t, er, exactly voluntary. The DOJ press release is conspicuously silent on this little detail.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) release does answer one question I had: Why Alabama? Alabama was the location to which the money wired from Dubai was sent in July.

This article published by Radio France International in March (Google translation from French) lists some of the members of Monsieur's team. Curiously, Mr. Fotouhi, Monsieur's 'business partner' is not on the list.


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