Covert Iranian nuclear dealings via Turkey revealed

March 12, 2013, Tuesday/ 16:49:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN

An investigation conducted by the federal prosecutor's office of Germany has revealed that Iranian front companies based in İstanbul transported 941 items with nuclear applications through Turkey, the Bugün daily reported on Tuesday.

According to the report, in 2012 German police detected that materials with nuclear applications obtained in Germany and India were transported to the Mitech company in Iran through Turkey by an Iranian national, Hossein Tanideh. Mitech is under US and European Union-imposed sanctions.

Germany's Federal Criminal Police Office, which is also the German branch of Interpol, informed its counterpart in Turkey about Tanideh's dealings, and Tanideh was arrested after being referred to the Küçükçekmece Court in İstanbul on Jan. 19, 2013. As part of the investigation, Mesut Atasoy, who is the owner of one the front companies implicated in Turkey, was also taken into custody, while three other Iranian nationals are still on the run.

Following Tanideh's arrest, Turkey's Ministry of Justice informed the Küçükçekmece Prosecutor's Office that Tanideh's dealings in Turkey also constituted a crime under Turkish law and demanded that an investigation be launched. The prosecutor's office then instructed the anti-smuggling and organized crime unit within the İstanbul Security Directorate to initiate a fresh investigation of the issue. In this new investigation, Atasoy, owner of Baha Turizm (Tourism) Ltd., and who also has a business that exports to Iran, was detained. Atasoy was also Tanideh's landlord.   

As part of the investigation, a thorough search was conducted at IDI, a foreign trade company owned by Tanideh. Police raided the main office of the company in Bakırköy, İstanbul, and seized all the documents in the office. Those documents revealed that Tanideh and Atasoy sent the materials with nuclear applications they got from Germany and India to Mitech in Iran and declared them as plumbing parts and fixtures.

Turkish police found out that 91 items with nuclear applications were sent, on seven occasions, to Iran from Germany via Turkey, while 856 nuclear items were sent, on four occasions, from India to Iran via Turkey. Three Iranian citizens still on the run are wanted as part of the investigation, and police have sent photos of all three to all customs gates in an effort to prevent them from leaving the country with a false passport.

After launching an investigation last year, the German federal prosecutor's office got a red notice from Interpol regarding Tanideh for having allegedly violated the German Foreign Trade Act and the Weapons Act. As it was highly probable that Tanideh would try to flee to Turkey, German Interpol informed its Turkish counterpart.  

Launching an extensive probe into Tanideh's business dealings, Interpol Ankara found out that Tanideh had entered Turkey several times in the past and that the last time he entered Turkey was through Sabiha Gökçen Airport in İstanbul on June 18, 2012. Tanideh's location was detected, a wiretap was used and in a joint operation of Turkey's Interpol and the İstanbul Police Department's organized crime unit, he was taken into custody.  Iran has been suffering from strict sanctions imposed by the UN, the US and the European Union for refusing to halt its nuclear enrichment program, allegedly aimed at producing nuclear weapons. Iran denies the accusation, saying its nuclear activities are limited to medicine and peaceful energy production.

A good number of Iranian-financed firms have set up shop in Turkey recently. In January this year, there were 28 Iranian-funded foreign companies established in Turkey, which ranked just behind German investors, according to a report released by the Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges (TOBB).

That development continues a trend of an unprecedented number of Iranian-funded firms opening their doors in Turkey since international sanctions against Iran began in earnest two years ago. A previous TOBB report published in September 2012 stated that 651 Iranian-funded foreign companies were established in Turkey in the first nine months of 2012, and other TOBB data show a total of 2,140 companies funded by Iran in Turkey in 2011, which was a 40 percent rise over 2010. 

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