Iranian wanted in S.D. missile parts case freed in Thailand
Officials in Thailand have freed a high-ranking Iranian air force officer wanted in San Diego on charges of trying to export U.S. missile parts to Iran.
Jamshid Ghassemi, 57, was released after a Thai appellate court upheld a rejection of a U.S. extradition request, U.S. authorities were told by Thai officials last week.
“We were disappointed with the Thai court's decision,” said Cynthia Brown, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok. “We believe that the law and facts supported the extradition of Mr. Ghassemi to the United States.”
The episode comes as the United States is urging Thailand to hand over Viktor Bout, an alleged Russian arms smuggler dubbed “The Merchant of Death,” on charges of conspiring to kill Americans. A U.S. agent testified in a Thai court Monday that Bout is one of the world's biggest arms dealers.
It also comes amid rising tensions between Washington and Tehran as Iran pursues a nuclear program in defiance of U.S. and international demands.
Ghassemi was charged in October 2006 by a federal grand jury in San Diego with conspiring to buy 12 accelerometers. The Honeywell International devices he allegedly sought are for missile guidance and banned for export without permission from the State Department.
The complaint says Ghassemi wired $70,000 from a bank in Romania to San Diego to pay for the devices, which were to be sent to Bucharest. He was arrested in Bangkok in November 2006 and faced up to 45 years prison if convicted of weapons export and money laundering charges.
Ghassemi's Thai attorney, Kittipong Kiettanapoom, acknowledged in an April 2007 defense affidavit that his client tried to buy the accelerometers on his government's orders.
“The defendant is a high-ranking officer with the Iranian Air Force and has been assigned by the Air Force to purchase spare parts for different kinds of fighter jets,” Kiettanapoom said. “The defendant has made a purchase according to his supervisor's assignment.”
The defendant made the purchase consistent with military conduct, according to a copy of the affidavit translated to English from Thai.