Case Study - Decision Reached on Vanaki Case: Landgericht Finds Defendant Guilty, Issues Suspended Sentence

by David Albright and Christina Walrond

October 23, 2009

On September 24, the district court of Frankfurt (Landgericht) ruled against German-Iranian Mohsen Vanaki. Vanaki was accused of brokering the sale of high-speed cameras and radiation detectors for an Iranian nuclear weapons program. Vanaki worked principally with the Iranian company Kimya Pakhsh Sharg Co. Ltd. in Iran, but he also dealt with Aryadaran General Trading LLC in Dubai. Following a four-day trial, Vanaki was sentenced to a 22-month suspended sentence and ordered to pay the court 5,000 Euros ($7,300). The prosecutor is appealing this decision and is seeking a prison sentence of three years and four months for Vanaki. Throughout the trial, Vanaki maintained his innocence, saying that he never attempted to conceal his business, and that his words were twisted by the court.

Because of conflicting intelligence reports from various governments, the district court could not determine definitively whether Iran was developing a nuclear weapons program at the time of the crime. However, an expert from the University in Munich testified that the high-speed cameras transferred to Iran had no practical application outside of the development of nuclear weapons. Based on this testimony, the district court ruled that Vanaki should have been aware that the items he sought to procure for Iran could be used in a nuclear weapons program.

This case shows the challenges facing prosecutors when attempting to convict someone who may be supplying an illicit nuclear weapons program. Because intelligence agencies typically do not conclude “beyond a reasonable doubt” that a country is developing a nuclear weapons program, it is difficult to use their estimates to reach a conviction in court against a suspected proliferator. Although the law was upheld in this case, Vanaki’s extremely small penalty demonstrates the problems prosecutors face when seeking to use penalties to deter future cases of proliferation.

To find the details regarding the case against Vanaki and the evidence presented by the BND see the updated illicit trade case study The Trials of the German-Iranian Trader Mohsen Vanaki.

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