US sanctions network accused of supplying Iran’s drone production

Tehran is suspected of supplying UAVs to Russia and Middle Eastern proxies.

This handout picture released by Iran's Army office on April 19, 2023 shows military chief Major General Abdolrahim Mousavi (R) and Defence Minister Mohammad Reza Ashtiani (2nd-R) taking part in the unveiling ceremony of 200 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV or drone) at an undisclosed location in Iran. (Photo by Iranian Army office / AFP) / === RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / HO / IRANIAN ARMY OFFICE" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS ===
Iranian army officials inspect unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) at an undisclosed location in Iran [Iranian Army office via AFP]

The United States has imposed sanctions on a network accused of evading trade restrictions to supply Iran with components to build drones.

The US Treasury Department on Tuesday announced the measures have been implemented against a web of foreign front companies that have been sending Tehran sensitive equipment. Iranian-built unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are being used in the wars in the Middle East and Ukraine.

The sanctions target 10 entities and four individuals. The firms affected include “intermediary companies, front companies, and logistics businesses” based in Iran, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Indonesia.

The network, the US Treasury says, has procured hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of foreign components for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Aerospace Force Self-Sufficiency Jihad Organization, an Iranian research and development unit that builds cybe-warfare equipment and weaponry.

Iran is supplying UAVs to its “terrorist proxies in the Middle East and to Russia,” the US administration added.

The US Justice Department also unsealed an indictment on Tuesday against Hossein Hatefi Ardakani, the alleged leader of the network. Iran-based Ardakani is charged with conspiring to illegally buy and export US-made microelectronics to Iran.

According to the indictment, Ardakani and his co-conspirators, including a Chinese national named Gary Lam, used foreign companies to evade US export controls on sensitive equipment.

“Ardakani and his co-conspirators crafted a sophisticated web of front companies to obscure the illicit acquisition of US and foreign technology to procure components for deadly UAVs,” US special agent Michael Krol said. “These very components have been found in use by Iran’s allies in current conflicts, including in Ukraine.”

Washington has long accused Tehran of supplying weapons, including drones, to Russia for use in Ukraine, where it has been locked in a war for 22 months. Iran denies providing Russia with drones.

Russia has launched almost nightly attacks using UAVs on Ukrainian cities and infrastructure in recent weeks. Kyiv said on Wednesday that it had destroyed 18 out of 19 attack drones launched at the country overnight.

In a statement announcing the indictments, US attorney Matthew Groves said the US remains “focused on disrupting the efforts of Iran and its agents to circumvent US sanctions in support of Iran’s weapons programs, including its drone program, which have been used to support and supply terrorist organizations and other foreign adversaries – such as Russia – around the globe”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies