A federal grand jury has indicted two men, one from Iran and the other from China, on charges of conspiring to send materials from the US to Iran for the purpose of enriching uranium.
Using a Chinese company as a go-between to avoid trade sanctions, the men tried for three years to obtain US materials, such as high-strength steel, that could be used in an Iranian nuclear programme, the US justice department said on Friday.
Iranian citizen Parviz Khaki was arrested in May in the Philippines, while the other man, Zongcheng Yi of China, remains at large, the department said.
The materials and components the suspects were trying to obtain comprised almost "everything you need to build gas centrifuges for uranium enrichment," a law enforcement official told the Reuters news agency.
The two men succeeded in illegally exporting lathes and nickel-alloy wire from the US to China and then to Iran around June 2009, according to the indictment filed by the justice department.
It said the men purchased the materials from US companies without divulging the ultimate destination. They also did not have export licenses required for shipments to countries such as Iran that are under US sanctions.
Other attempts to obtain materials failed, the indictment said.
'Middlemen around the globe'
Iran insists its nuclear programme is peaceful, but Western powers suspect it is masking attempts to develop nuclear weapons.
Live Box 20124810121214994
Khaki allegedly began talking with an undercover US federal agent in 2009, including in emails in which he tried to acquire radioactive source material. The emails continued into 2011, the indictment said.
Lisa Monaco, assistant attorney-general for national security, said the indictment "sheds light on the reach of Iran's illegal procurement networks and the importance of keeping US nuclear-related materials from being exploited by
"Iranian procurement networks continue to target US and Western companies for technology acquisition by using fraud, front companies and middlemen in nations around the globe," Monaco said in a statement.
The 24-page indictment was handed up by a grand jury in Washington on Thursday and released on Friday. It did not name the US companies that Khaki and Yi allegedly approached.