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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Putting the Sqeeze on the Iranians

15/06/2008 Iran/United States : INTELLIGENCE ONLINE N° 570

StatesPutting the Sqeeze on the IraniansINTELLIGENCE ONLINE N° 570 To turn up the heat on Tehran, Washington is not only seeking to discourage Western companies from penning contracts in Iran - Shell and Repsol are about to withdraw from the South Pars gas project - but is equally targeting holding companies controlled by Iranians living abroad. The Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry & Security is training its sights on the British steel trading giant Balli Group. Property of the Alaghband family of Iranian origin, Balli has been accused of leasing airliners to Tehran. But it is probably also being penalized for its key part in maintaining tight commercial and diplomatic ties between Iran and the West.How Three Boeing Airliners Ended Up in Iran. Even though one of the Balli Group's leading offices is in Houston, the company which boasts annual sales of over USD 1 billion, has been banned from exporting or helping to export American goods subject to restrictions until September 18 of this year. The Temporary Denial Order slapped on it by the BIS came on the heels of several operations in recent years by one of its affiliates, Balli Aviation. When United Airlines was placed under Chapter 11 in 2002, Balli Aviation bought three aging Boeing 747 airliners from the company (all three entered service in 1993). The aircraft were subsequently leased to another affiliate of the Balli Group, Blue Sky Airways, which began operating last year in Tehran to carry Iranian passengers to South East Asia and Mecca. According to the BIS, Blue Sky is about to sell three other Boeing 747s in its fleet to the Iranian carrier Mahan Air, a charge both Balli and Blue Sky strongly deny. On Feb. 22, the two firms were ordered to give back all the American-origin aircraft they own to the U.S., without the least compensation. In failing to obey what would have clearly been a commercially suicidal order, Balli Group and Blue Sky and all their affiliates and executives were forbidden to trade in American products subject to export clamps. The affair has surfaced as Iran is multiplying its efforts to acquire short and long-haul aircraft for its airlines. According to our sources, several go-betweens acting on Tehran's behalf recently made contact with Dutch companies marketing Fokkers.
The Balli Group’s Connections.
In hitting out at the Balli Group, the BIS was targeting one of the leading players that pursue commercial and political relations between Iran and the Western world. Highly active in Iran, the Balli Group is the official representative of two American multinationals in Iran, and not the least, either: Xerox and Caterpillar. Iranian firms that want to buy Caterpillar earth-moving machinery or Xerox’s products pass by way of the Balli Group. The company also has influential connections in London and Washington. One of the members of its board is Norman Lamont (Lord Lamont of Lerwick) who was John Major’s chancellor of the exchequer. Lamont is also the chairman of the highly active British Iranian Chamber of Commerce which speaks for British groups operating in Iran and is calling for wider commercial ties between the U.K. and Tehran. The chairman of Balli, Vahid Alaghband, whose personal fortune has been estimated at GBP 125 million, is one of the co-founders of the Iran Heritage Foundation that devotes itself to “promoting Iran’s cultural heritage.” Each year the Foundation throws a “Nouroz Gala” for the Persian community living in exile in London. Elsewhere, the Alaghband family figures among contributors to the PARSA Community Foundation which specializes in bankrolling projects carried out by Iranians or members of the Persian diaspora. Indeed, the PARSA Community Foundation donated a grant to the National Iranian American Council, an organization set up in 2002 to push in Washington for the restoration of diplomatic relations between the United States and Washington.The NIAC, which has won the backing of George Soros’ Open Society Institute, endeavors to tone down the saber-rattling rhetoric of numerous neo-conservative think tanks in the U.S., among them the Committee on Present Danger and the Foundation for Democracy in Iran.

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