Man accused of trying to buy device for Iran

Web Posted: 09/20/2006 12:48 AM CDT

Guillermo Contreras
Express-News Staff Writer

Federal authorities in San Antonio have arrested a Canadian man on charges that he tried to broker for an Iranian firm a device used to test for flaws in equipment in gas pipelines and electric power plants.
Seyed Abolghassem Rohani Eftekhari, 44, was arrested Monday by agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on a charge alleging he violated the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and executive orders that bar U.S. exports to Iran. Eftekhari is scheduled for a bail hearing Thursday.

Iran is on a list of countries the State Department considers a state sponsor of terrorism.

The FBI and ICE officials opened a probe in the case Aug. 1. Through investigation the agencies learned that officials with Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio received a suspicious inquiry regarding "guided wave equipment" technology, according to a criminal complaint affidavit unsealed Tuesday. The inquiry appeared to originate in Tehran, Iran, the complaint said.

The institute develops some of that technology.

The FBI on Tuesday referred questions to ICE, which forwarded inquiries to the U.S. Attorney's Office in San Antonio. The prosecutor in the case could not be reached for comment.

The affidavit said a man identified as Farshid Rohani and another man made inquiries about "magnetostrictive sensor" technology, and that Rohani eventually brokered a deal to buy some of that technology for $72,000 from Southwest Research Institute. The affidavit identifies Rohani as being an official in a Canadian foundry company and also said Rohani is an alias for Eftekhari.

Agents obtained search warrants to pore over Eftekhari's computer communications, and through their investigation, the affidavit said, agents learned the technology was actually for a company in Tehran, where Eftekhari was born. The search warrants and affidavits remained sealed Tuesday.

Eftekhari was arrested Monday as he arrived in San Antonio for training on the equipment he aimed to buy, according to the affidavit.

Craig Witherow, director of communications for Southwest Research Institute, said the technology is used in the industry to test heat-exchange units.

In July, R&D Magazine recognized the institute for a probe that uses the technology to inspect heat exchanger tubes of systems such as electric power generation plants. The magazine said the probe was one of the 100 most significant technological achievements in the past year, according to a news release from the institute.

"We're very conscientious about those countries that might be solicitous of (this) stuff, and we have a number of systems in place where we're always watching to make sure that unusual inquiries are referred to the proper authorities," Witherow said.

Eftekhari is being held in federal custody without bail pending a hearing Thursday before U.S. Magistrate Judge John Primomo.