A retired company boss has been jailed for trafficking fighter jet parts to Iran in violation of Weapons of Mass Destruction controls.
Alexander George, 77, from Bristol, was sentenced to two-and-a-half years for shipping military items to Iran, including Russian MiG and US F4 Phantom parts sent through various companies and countries.
Two others – Paul Attwater, 65, and his 66-year-old wife Iris, both of Telford, Shropshire, were handed suspended six-month prison sentences last month for sourcing dual-use aircraft parts from the US and shipping them to George’s companies in Malaysia and Dubai, which then sent them to Iran.
The UK operates a strict licensing regime to uphold international sanctions and to ensure military equipment and dual-use items, which could be used by both the military and civilian sectors, do not fall into the wrong hands.
HMRC investigators found George was shipping the aircraft parts to Iran via companies he owned overseas. He brought in the Attwaters to try and hide the smuggling operation further and they shipped parts, including those that they knew were restricted under Weapons of Mass Destruction controls, through their company.
After the sentencing at the Old Bailey on Thursday, Simon York, a fraud investigation director at HMRC, said: “These three sold banned items that ended up in Iran. They didn’t care what these parts might be used for, as long as they got paid.
“This was a calculated and cynical attempt to undermine strict trade embargoes and internationally agreed controls. They knew the rules and weaved increasingly elaborate plans to stay under the radar. ”
But at one stage, George became concerned he was being investigated and even searched the internet to find out who was wanted by the FBI, CIA and Interpol for selling aircraft parts to Iran.
It was then that he brought in the Attwaters, who operated Pairs Aviation Ltd from Crawley, East Sussex, to act as a buffer by ordering the parts and shipping them.
A number of exports from Pairs Aviation had been blocked by early 2010 over fears the items were ending up in Iran. All three directors were warned about exporting without a licence.
George was questioned by HMRC officers at Heathrow Airport in August and December 2010 and denied he was dealing in aircraft parts.
He told officers he was dealing in wheelbarrows, goggles and gloves for the construction industry.
The trio decided to add an extra layer to the supply chain in a bid to further disguise their criminal trade.
They began shipping the items to Holland, in the name of a company registered in the British Virgin Islands called Wiky Global Corp, before they were sent to Malaysia and then Iran.
George and Iris Attwater were convicted of knowingly exporting controlled military or dual-use goods between February 2010 and March 2016 after a trial at Southwark Crown Court.
Paul Attwater changed his plea to guilty towards the end of the trial.
HMRC estimates George made profits of more than £5m from the illegal sales and the Attwaters made a further £500,000 profit.
Action to recover the money, under the Proceeds of Crime Act, will now follow.
Luke Dockwray, senior specialist prosecutor at the Crown Prosecution Service, said: “Alex George, Paul Attwater and Iris Attwater sold aircraft components to countries and customers they knew required a license from the government.
“Despite being warned the goods they were exporting were at risk of being used in a Weapons of Mass Destruction programme, the defendants introduced new corporate entities into the trading chain to disguise the destination of the sales, in order to continue their supply.
“The CPS worked closely with HMRC to present the complex trading chains to the jury to demonstrate the criminal activity of these defendants.”