Five Spanish businessmen, three Iranians involved in sale of the helicopters, which is illegal due to UN sanctions on Iran, nabbed by Spanish police.
Published 13:58 26.05.11
Spanish police have arrested eight people who allegedly planned to sell to Iran U.S.-made military transport helicopters that they bought from Israel with U.S. government approval.
Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said five Spanish businessmen and three Iranians who had come to Spain to finalize the deal have been arrested.
A statement by Spain's interior ministry said nine U.S.-made Bell 212 helicopters were seized in warehouses in Madrid and the northeastern port city of Barcelona. Spare aircraft parts that police say were intended for Venezuela were also confiscated.
It was revealed to Haaretz that Israel's defense ministry had sold the U.S.-made helicopters, which had been in storage after years of use by the Israeli Air Force, to a Spanish businessman named Pedro Matorna, who intended to sell them for fire-fighting services in Spain.
The sale, worth $20 million, was made with U.S. government approval, given that the helicopters were manufactured in the U.S. The purchase was approved after Matorna's company submitted documents declaring that the helicopters would be sold on for use in fire-fighting services.
When it turned out that the helicopters were unsuitable for this use, the Spanish company looked for another buyer in order to get rid of the stock, planning to sell them on to Iran.
Events indicate that Israel acted properly and in coordination with the U.S. government.
The United Nations has imposed an arms embargo on Iran. Police put the value of the sale at 100 million ($140 million).
The International Atomic Energy Agency recently revealed in a report fresh evidence that Iran has tried to weaponize its nuclear program. Many are increasingly concerned that Iran is trying to obtain nuclear weapons, and thus sanctions against the country continue to be tightened.
U.S. senators recently proposed further tightening sanctions on Iran, reflecting fears that companies overseas, particularly in China, are evading U.S. penalties imposed last year for doing business with Iran.
The Senate bill was introduced a day after the Obama administration penalized seven foreign firms, including Venezuela's state-owned oil company, for trading with Iran.
The European Union this week also tightened sanctions against Iran, reflecting the mounting frustration over a lack of progress in nuclear talks with Tehran.
EU foreign ministers agreed to add more than 100 new entities to a list of companies and people affected by EU sanctions, designed to put economic pressure on Tehran to abandon its atomic program, EU diplomats said.
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