UAE's Reputation: Smuggling Haven?

In the midst of bipartisan outrage over the White House’s decision to allow a United Arab Emirates-owned company to oversee operations at U.S. ports, it’s worth considering the safety record of Dupai Ports World.

Most maritime experts attest to the firm’s solid reputation and Kim Petersen, head of SeaSecure, a U.S.-based maritime security company, and executive director of the Maritime Security Council told CNN, “This whole notion that Dubai is going to control or set standards for U.S. ports is a canard … is factually false.” Dubai Ports World, like all port owners, must abide by the Maritime Transportation Security Act passed by Congress in 2002 and International Ship and Port Facility Security codes enacted in 2004, he said. Both sets of security measures are enforced in the United States by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem, the chairman of DP World, often recounts the days when his grandfather was a pearl diver to illustrate his country’s history in trading. “We are merchants, and we’ve been trading since the days of our ancestors,” he recently said. Unfortunately, over the last ten years, some merchants have used the country’s ports to trade weapons and to evade trading sanctions on Iran and other countries.

Since DP World is a state-run company, it seems reasonable to examine the record of the UAE. Although they have cooperated with the U.S. in the capture and arrest of several suspected terrorists, the country has a troubling history of weapons smuggling. Last year, the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, a non-partisan research institue, compiled a chronology of smuggling and illicit transfers that have occurred in the UAE:

1994 - 1995: Bukary Syed Abu (B.S.A.) Tahir, a Sri Lankan based in Dubai, allegedly organizes the transshipment of two containers of centrifuge components from Dubai to Iran, on behalf of A.Q. Khan, for $3 million.

October 1995: Seven persons are indicted by the United States for conspiring to export, without the required license, $500,000 of sensitive U.S. electronics to Iran between 1991 and 1994. Controlled goods, including encryption devices, were allegedly shipped via Hanofeel General Trading Est. of Dubai to Iran’s Tak Neda Co. Ltd. Elham Abrishami, of Afshein, Inc. in the U.S., pleads guilty in 1997.

1996: The German government warns its exporters that Iranian companies active in procurement for weapons programs are present in Dubai. Among the entities that arrange and finance technology transfers via front companies in Dubai are Iran’s State Purchasing Organization, and Bonyad Mostazafan and Janbazan Foundation.

June 1996: Dubai’s Guide Oil Equipment Company is identified in a U.S. court as a corporation that ships impregnated alumina, which can be used in the manufacture of nerve gas, through Dubai or the United Kingdom to Iran. In 1998 Abdol Hamid Rashidian and Henry Joseph Trojack are convicted for conspiring to ship impregnated alumina to Iran.

July 1996 - March 1998: IGI, Inc. sold $400,000 of poultry vaccine from the U.S. to Iran via Dubai, violating the U.S. embargo on Iran.

1997 - 1998: Pars Company Inc. of the U.S. exports two STX gas monitors to the U.A.E. and transships them to Iran. Pars Company did not obtain the required license for the monitors, which can be used in chemical and biological weapons production, and is fined $10,000. The U.S. Department of Commerce subsequently imposes a nine year denial of export privileges in 2002. The U.S. firm Industrial Scientific Corporation is also implicated, and pays a $30,000 fine.

1998: According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, Jabal Damavand General Trading Company of Dubai transfers U.S.-origin ferrography laboratory equipment to Iran without authorization. In 2002 the U.S. bans Jabal Damavand for ten years from engaging in any activity subject to the Export Administration Regulations.

March 1998: According to the U.S. government’s Iraq Survey Group (I.S.G.), the Iraqi Intelligence Service uses bribes to circumvent customs inspections in Dubai, which is a transshipment point for military equipment being sought from Romania.

May 1998: A new Sun Ultra Enterprise 1 Work Station is located in Iraq’s National Computer Center, which was involved in Iraq’s nuclear weapons program. Iraq claims to have imported workstations from the U.A.E. and Jordan.

May 1998 - June 1999: According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, Dubai’s Ibn Khaldoon Drug Store Est. participates in the unauthorized export of medical equipment from the U.S. to Iran, in contravention of the U.S. embargo. Ibn Khaldoon is ordered in 2004 to pay a $40,000 fine.

May 1998 - May 2002: Biocheck Inc. of the U.S. allegedly exports medical diagnostic kits without authorization to Iran via Italy and the U.A.E. Biocheck is later fined $32,000 by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, and pays the U.S. Department of Commerce $22,500.

September 1998 - February 2001: NEC Engineers of India allegedly sends 10 shipments of materials used in the manufacture of rocket propellant and missiles to Dubai and Jordan without the required export license. Indian court documents state that the consignments, shipped for $791,343, “appear to have been diverted to Iraq for assisting their weapon building programme,” violating the U.N. embargo. NEC Engineers is accused of mis-declaring goods and attempting to export consignments in the name of associated companies. The Dubai companies Target General Land Transport and Indjo Trading are reportedly involved.

November 1998 - February 2000: Mohammad Farahbakhsh, co-owner and managing director of Dubai’s Diamond Technology LLC, allegedly tries to export U.S. computer items to Iran via Diamond Technology. The alleged purchaser is Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group, which is a branch of the Iranian Ministry of Defence and subject to U.S. sanctions for its involvement in cruise and ballistic missile development.

1998 - 2000: Mazyar Gavidel and his company Homa International Trading Corp. violate the U.S. trade embargo against Iran by illegally transferring approximately $2 million of laundered money through Dubai. Gavidel and Homa International are convicted by the U.S. in August 2002.

January 1999: Abu Bakar Siddiqui, a British exporter of Pakistani origin and an alleged procurement agent for A.Q. Khan, allegedly attempts to ship special aluminum sheets to Dubai.

May 1999: British customs authorities reportedly seize up to 20 tons of components, including high-grade aluminum, believed to be ultimately destined for Pakistan. The cargo arrived from the U.S. and was allegedly about to be shipped to Dubai. The exporter is allegedly Siddiqui, who is convicted in the United Kingdom in 2001 for illegally exporting strategic materials to Pakistan, including high-strength aluminum bars.

2001: U.A.E. companies act as intermediaries in the partial delivery of fiber-optic and military communications contracts from South Korea to Iraq, according to the I.S.G.

2001: Dubai’s Ports, Customs & Free Zone Corporation is established to take over customs operations from the Dubai Ports Authority and Jebel Ali Free Zone Authority.

June 2001: Bef Corp. allegedly exports photo finishing equipment to SK of Dubai, which transships the equipment to Iran, in violation of U.S. sanctions.

September 2001: The U.A.E.’s Advance Technical Systems purchases $16,000 of military radar components from the U.S. and transships them to Pakistan after declaring that they were for the Bangladeshi Air Force. Following guilty pleas delivered in June 2003 for the illegal export of parts for howitzers, radars and armored personnel carriers, two U.S. citizens and one Pakistani are imprisoned.

October 2001: A U.A.E.-based firm acts as an intermediary to facilitate the trade in ballistic missile-related goods from China to Iraq, according to the I.S.G.

May 2002: The German government warns its exporters that since 1998 Iraq has been increasingly engaging in procurement activities through Dubai. Germany believes that North Korea has also increased its operations in Dubai.

August 2002: The U.S. firm Mercator, Inc. agrees a $30,000 settlement with the U.S. Department of Commerce, which had alleged that Mercator had exported chemicals to Dubai with the knowledge that they would be re-exported to Iran without prior authorization.

December 2002: The U.S. Navy accuses Dubai’s Naif Marine Services of smuggling to Iraq polymers that could be used to manufacture explosives.

January 2003: Spare parts for Mirage F-1 aircraft and Gazelle attack helicopters are transferred to Iraq. U.S. intelligence reportedly believes that parts were purchased from France by Dubai’s Al Tamoor Trading Co., and then smuggled to Iraq through at third country, reportedly Turkey.

May 2003 - February 2004: U.A.E.-based Diamond Technology LLC and its managing director Mohammad Farahbakhsh allegedly export a U.S. satellite communications system to Iran without the required license.

June 2003: 311 companies attend the third U.A.E. Trade Exhibition in Iran. Trade with Iran exchanged through Dubai’s ports was 12 billion dirhams in 2001, an increase from 4.3 billion in 1997.

October 2003: 66 triggered spark gaps, which can be used to detonate nuclear weapons, are shipped without the required license from the United States to Top-Cape Technology in South Africa. They are subsequently transshipped via Dubai to AJMC Lithographic Aid Society in Pakistan. In 2004 Asher Karni, an Israeli living in South Africa, pleads guilty to conspiring to export controlled commodities to Pakistan without validated export licenses. In 2005 the U.S. indicts Humayun Khan of the Pakistani company Pakland PME for violating export restrictions and being the ultimate purchaser.

October 2003: Five containers of centrifuge components, sent by B.S.A. Tahir and shipped through Dubai, are seized en route to Libya. The items are part of four shipments made by Malaysia’s Scomi Precision Engineering (SCOPE) between 2002 and 2003 to Dubai’s Aryash Trading Company. One of the four consignments lists the addressee as Gulf Technical Industries, but is diverted to Desert Electrical Equipment Factory, also based in Dubai.

October 2003: According to B.S.A. Tahir, the BBC China, the ship carrying the seized centrifuge components, was also transporting an aluminum casting and dynamo for Libya’s centrifuge workshop. The consignment was allegedly sent via Dubai by TUT Shipping on behalf of Gunas Jireh of Turkey.

October 2003: Two weeks after the seizure of the centrifuge components, B.S.A. Tahir arranges the transshipment to Libya, via Dubai, of an electrical cabinet and power supplier-voltage regulator on behalf of Selim Alguadis, an associate of A.Q. Khan.

December 2003: Hamid Fathaloloomy, principal of Dubai’s Akeed Trading Company, allegedly attempts to export U.S. pressure sensors to Iran.

April 2004: The U.A.E. freezes the accounts of SMB Computers as part of its investigation into B.S.A. Tahir, who is the Group Managing Director.

April 2004: Elmstone Service and Trading FZE is sanctioned for two years by the United States for transferring to Iran equipment and/or technology of proliferation significance since 1999.

August 2004: The U.S. indicts Khalid Mahmood, of Dubai, for breaking the U.S. embargo to Iran. Mahmood allegedly attempted to arrange the sale of forklift radiators from the U.S. to Iran, by concealing the final destination in the sale.

September 2004: The I.S.G. lists 20 U.A.E. firms that are suspected of having acted as intermediaries or front companies for Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, and says that the U.A.E. was a transit location for prohibited goods, with companies using deceptive trade practices. The I.S.G. also concludes that the U.A.E. and Iran were the most frequent destinations for Iraqi smuggled oil and owned the majority of smuggling vessels involved.

December 2004: The U.A.E. agrees to join the U.S.’ Container Security Initiative (C.S.I.), becoming the first country in the Middle East to do so. U.S. customs officials will be stationed in Dubai to help target and screen suspect cargo bound for the United States.

2005: More than 300 Iranian companies are known to have operated in Dubai’s Jebel Ali Free Zone.

May 2005: Dubai signs a Memorandum of Understanding with the U.S. to join the Megaports Initiative. Dubai will be the first government in the Middle East to participate in the scheme, which is intended to detect and seize shipments of radioactive material.


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