2 Charged in Plot to Export Jet Parts
Customs Alleges F-14 Components Were Illegally Bound for Iran's Air Force
By Vernon Loeb
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 10, 2000; Page A02
The U.S. Customs Service has charged two foreign nationals in California with conspiring to illegally export aircraft parts for the F-14 Tomcat to the Iranian air force, which has embarked on an ambitious program to modernize the American-made fighter jet.
Saeed Homayouni, a naturalized Canadian from Iran, and Yew Leng Fung, a Malaysian citizen, were arrested Thursday at an apartment in Bakersfield, Calif., from which they allegedly brokered the export of parts for the F-14, the F-5 Tiger and the F-4 Phantom without required licenses, according to a complaint filed by the Customs Service.
The document did not indicate where the F-5 and F-4 parts were destined for export.
Homayouni pleaded not guilty Friday. Fung's arraignment was postponed until Monday so that a Cantonese interpreter could be present in court.
They were arrested by Customs agents after a 20-month federal investigation that began when an aircraft parts vendor in San Diego alerted Customs officials that a firm called Multicore Ltd., operating out of the Bakersfield apartment where Homayouni and Fung lived, had requested price information for air intake seals used only on the F-14.
The F-14, a multi-role fighter manufactured by Northrop Grumman Corp., is flown only by the U.S. and Iranian air forces. Iran acquired 99 F-14s from the United States in the 1970s, before the country's Islamic revolution. It is believed to have about 25 of the aircraft in service.
The commander of Iran's air force said last year that the country had become self-sufficient in maintaining its F-14s, although Jane's Defense Weekly reported last year that Iran is capable of manufacturing only about 70 percent of the components needed to keep the aircraft operational.
At least one arms broker, Parviz Lavi, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Iran, has been convicted of trying to smuggle F-14 parts to Iran. Lavi, based in New York, pleaded guilty to violating the Arms Export Control Act in 1998. He was fined $125,000 and sentenced to five years in jail.
In arresting Homayouni and Fung last week in California, the Customs Service said their activities show that Iran still needs F-14 parts that its domestic manufacturers cannot produce. A 21-page complaint filed by Customs agents also illustrates the illusive nature of international arms smuggling.
Although operating out of Homayouni's Bakersfield apartment, the complaint said, Multicore Ltd. is headquartered in London and has incoming telephone calls automatically forwarded to the United Kingdom. The firm has been the subject of seven Customs investigations, the complaint said. Its owner, identified in the complaint as Soroosh Homayouni, was convicted in 1987 of violating the Arms Export Control Act.
In signing for the delivery of F-14 parts at his apartment, Saeed Homayouni allegedly used the name "Sid Hamilton," the complaint said. On another occasion, Homayouni used the alias "Joe Barry" to ship aircraft parts to Singapore on behalf of a fictitious company, the complaint said. Its address on shipping documents was actually that of an answering service in Vista, Calif.
"Singapore is a known transshipment point for items destined to Iran and other countries facing United States trade sanctions," the complaint said.
Bank records subpoenaed by the Customs Service showed that Multicore Ltd. had made 399 payments totaling $2.26 million to military parts brokers since 1995 and had received deposits of $2.21 million, the complaint said.
Subpoenaed telephone records showed outgoing calls from Multicore to the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Switzerland and Iran, and subpoenaed records from the United Parcel Service showed 99 deliveries to Homayouni's apartment in a year, the complaint said.
Customs officials say the smuggling of military parts and high-technology components used in weapons systems is a thriving industry in the United States.
Ten days ago, a federal judge in Los Angeles acquitted Jeffrey Jhyfang Lo, a U.S. citizen, of smuggling charges involving an infrared camera used in military guidance systems. The judge found that an undercover FBI agent posing as a defense contractor encouraged Lo to put the camera in his luggage before boarding a flight in Los Angeles earlier this year.
Earlier in November, a federal judge in Boston sentenced Collin Xu, a Canadian citizen, to 30 months in prison after he pleaded guilty to trying to ship gyroscopes used in missile guidance systems out of the country without the necessary licenses.
In September, Jonathan Reynolds, a British citizen, pleaded guilty in federal court in Boston to violating the Arms Export Control Act by trying to ship night-vision goggles and helicopter parts to Pakistan.