French Firm Probed in Move of Pumps to Iran

Article excerpt

Byline: Bill Gertz, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

U.S. export-control officials are investigating a French company suspected of illegally supplying Iran with four specialty pumps made in the United States that can be used in both commercial and military equipment, The Washington Times has learned.

Treasury and Commerce department officials fear the pumps, described as cryogenic fluid transfer pumps, are being used as part of the cooling system for Iran's nuclear reactors, which can be used to produce weapons-grade material.

"That's the immediate concern," a Commerce Department official said. Export of the pumps is controlled because of their military capabilities.

The Treasury and Commerce departments are probing whether the French firm Technip-Coflexip in January diverted the pumps it purchased for a project in Iran to Iran's nuclear program. The electric pumps are submersible and used to transfer extremely cold fluids.

The officials said another likely use for the pumps is for the commercial transfer of liquid natural gas to ship containers for transport.

The officials said their departments also are investigating whether Technip violated licensing rules on sales of oil and gas equipment to Iran. Both areas of investigation could result in criminal penalties, the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Technip spokesman Chris Welton had no immediate comment.

If the pumps were used by Iran's nuclear program, it would violate export controls on equipment with the potential for use in nuclear weapons development. It also would violate the 1996 Iran Foreign Oil Sanctions Act, which bars U.S. companies from developing Iran's petroleum resources.

Under the 1996 law, any foreign company that invests more than $40 million annually in the Iranian and Libyan oil and gas industry can be sanctioned.

Additionally, the transfer pumps would require an export license if they were sold to Iran, which is under a U.S. embargo because of Tehran's support for international terrorism.

Yesterday, a United Nations diplomat said concern about Iran's nuclear facilities has prompted the Bush administration to pursue a U.N. resolution to ensure inspection of the facilities by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

According to officials, Technip contacted at least two U.S. transfer pump manufacturers, including the U.S. subsidiary of the Japanese-owned company Ebara International Corp. for two ethylene and two ethane transfer pumps.

The pumps were intended for the petrochemical complex being built by Technip called the 9th Olefins Complex at Assaluyeh, located on the northwestern coast of the Persian Gulf.

The diversion effort was outlined in documents sent to the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) in March by an informant close to Ebara. …