Iranian air force fighter jets fly over Tehran. (AFP/Getty Images)
Two Los Angeles-area men have been arrested on federal charges of conspiring to smuggle more than $3 million in fighter aircraft parts to Iran, the U.S. attorney’s office announced Friday.
Zavik Zargarian, 52, of Glendale and Vache Nayirian, 57, of Lakeview Terrace were arrested Wednesday by special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations following an undercover probe. The nine-count federal indictment unsealed this week also named Zargarian’s Pacoima-based company, ZNC Engineering Inc., and two Iranian nationals, Hanri Terminassian, 55, and Hormoz Nowrouz, 56 — both of whom are believed to be in Iran.
Several of the defendants also are accused of buying and illegally exporting fluorocarbon rubber O-rings to Iran. Those parts have possible military applications, including use in aircraft hydraulic systems and landing gear, according to federal authorities.
“The crimes charged in this indictment are very serious threats to our national security,” U.S. Atty. Eileen M. Decker said in a statement. “As a nation, it is vital that we protect our military technology and prevent it from getting into the hands of other countries without proper authorization.”
Zargarian and Nayirian pleaded not guilty and were freed on bond Wednesday. A man who answered the phone at a number listed for ZNC Engineering declined to comment Friday.
According to the indictment, Terminassian contacted Zargarian from Iran for help in obtaining military aircraft parts, including those used in F-18 fighter jets. Zargarian sought to purchase them from an undercover Homeland Security special agent posing as a parts supplier, and Terminassian traveled to the United States to meet with both of them about the deal, the indictment says.
The indictment also accuses Zargarian and Nayirian of conspiring with Terminassian and Nowrouz to export fluorocarbon rubber O-rings to Iran. The indictment alleges that Zargarian bought the O-rings from a California vendor and provided them to Nayirian, who then exported them to the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait. Terminassian then allegedly arranged for more than 7,000 of those O-rings to be transshipped to Iran.
To reduce the likelihood of detection, federal authorities allege, the defendants falsely claimed on shipping documents that the O-rings were destined for countries other than Iran and undervalued them to avoid close inspection by U.S. customs officials. Federal authorities said they obtained evidence that the O-rings were delivered to the Iranian Air Force.
“One of [our] top enforcement priorities is preventing sensitive articles like those in this case from falling into the hands of individuals or nations that might seek to harm America or its interests,” Joseph Macias, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Los Angeles, said in a statement. “The illicit trade of these kinds of items to countries that have repeatedly violated our export laws must be controlled.”
The U.S. embargo on Iran prohibits the export of goods, technology and services to Iran with limited exceptions.
If convicted, Zargarian would face a maximum sentence of 115 years in federal prison and a $4.77-million fine, while Nayirian would face 95 years in federal prison and a $3.77-million fine. A trial is set for Dec. 20.