AFP: Two Iranians and five Italians were arrested Wednesday in Italy on suspicion of trafficking arms to Iran in violation of international sanctions, a top anti-terrorist prosecutor said. MILAN, Italy (AFP) — Two Iranians and five Italians were arrested Wednesday in Italy on suspicion of trafficking arms to Iran in violation of international sanctions, a top anti-terrorist prosecutor said.
"It is an investigation of considerable importance because it concerns the entire international community," Armando Spataro told a news conference, adding that it had begun in June 2009.
The probe scuppered the planned export to Iran of large quantities of anti-tank projectiles and explosives, said Lieutenant Colonel Vincenzo Andreone of the financial police, who led the operation.
"During the investigation, one of the arrested Italians, a lawyer, went to Iran where he had contact with high officers of the Iranian army," Andreone said.
Two other Iranians sought in the same operation are currently in Iran, Spataro said, adding that the two arrested in Italy worked for the Iranian government.
Nejad Hamid Masoumi, 51, was accredited as a journalist in Rome, while Bakhtiyari Homayoun, 47, had no stated occupation. Both were arrested in Turin in northwest Italy.
Police also searched more than 20 sites in nearly a dozen Italian provinces, Spataro said.
"The other Italians are entrepreneurs, the heads of various import-export or communications businesses," Andreone said.
"They had set up a triangular system to cover their tracks. The trafficking was taking place at least since 2007."
Filling orders from Iran, the entrepreneurs bought weapons in Europe, mainly in Germany, Andreone said, adding that most of the purchases were legal.
They transported the weapons through third countries such as Britain, Switzerland and Romania before shipping them to Iran using other companies as cover.
Some shipments passed via the Gulf state of Dubai.
The scheme fell apart with a simple check by Romanian customs officials, who confiscated 200 gunsights. Another 100 were seized in London, Andreone said.
"The order was for 1,000 gunsights, of which 150 were already sent to Iran via Switzerland," he said. "We managed to interrupt the supply of 120 buoyancy compensators for divers designed for military use."
The probe interrupted the supply of anti-tank projectiles made in Bulgaria and in former Soviet states, as well as explosive chemical materials including zirconium and nickel, Andreone said.
"Our investigations were complex, because the traffickers played on the ambiguity between civilian and military arms," Spataro said.
Extensive wiretapping aided the probe, he said, defending the practice which faces new restrictions in legislation currently before the Italian parliament.
He said police in Bern, Switzerland, where one of the Italian suspects resided, had collaborated with the probe.
British authorities arrested a Briton implicated in the trafficking a few months ago, Spataro added.
The suspects are wanted for "criminal association for the purpose of exporting arms and weapons systems to Iran in violation of the international embargo that is in effect," the police said in a statement.