September 8, 2009
Monique Perry Danziger, +1 202 293 0740 ext. 222
WASHINGTON, DC — The growing presence of Iran in Latin America is a threat to national security and demands greater scrutiny and action by the United States and Venezuelan’s Latin American neighbors was the message delivered by New York Country District Attorney Robert Morgenthau at a lunch briefing today at the Brookings Institution organized by Global Financial Integrity and the American Interest.
Addressing an audience of academics, civil society groups, Congressional staff, and journalists, Mr. Morgenthau discussed how the “blossoming relationship” between Iran and Venezuela presented opportunities for Iran to circumvent U.S. and international economic sanctions designed to prevent them from developing long-range missile capacity and nuclear technology for military purposes.
Mr. Morgenthau cited “scores of Memoranda of Understanding” between the two nations with respect to joint technology development, military cooperation, banking and finance, and cooperation with oil and gas exploration as evidence of increasing cooperation between the two states and noted that with an estimated 50,000 tons of un-mined uranium “there is speculation that Venezuela could be mining uranium for Iran.” Mr. Morgenthau also noted that the emergence of Iranian-owned and controlled factories in remote and undeveloped parts of Venezuela could present ”ideal geographic locations for the illicit production of weapons.”
Referencing the work of the District Attorney’s office in Manhattan, Mr. Morgenthau described two investigations from the past year which indicated Iran’s efforts to procure weapons material and surmount imposed economic sanctions.
“Our efforts uncovered a pervasive system of deceitful and fraudulent practices employed by Iranian entities to move money all over the world without detection, including through banks located in the jurisdiction I am responsible for protecting – Manhattan,” said Morgenthau in his prepared remarks. “Why did Iran go to these lengths? I believe the answer is simple: In order to pay for materials necessary to develop nuclear weapons, long-range missiles, and road-side bombs.”
Mr. Morgenthau recommended increasing transparency in financial transactions, better “know your customer” practices, engaging the participation of Venezuela’s Latin American neighbors in discouraging Iran’s mounting presence in the region, and monitoring Venezuela’s banking system with the possibility of imposing economic sanctions.
“For Iran, the lifeblood of their nuclear and weapons programs is the ability to use the international banking system to make payments for banned missile and nuclear materials,” said Morgenthau in his prepared remarks. “We all know that stopping the flow of illicit funds has a direct correlation to curbing wrongful conduct.”
Over the weekend Iran and Venezuela signed three memorandums of understanding in the energy sector in Tehran during Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s visit. The memoranda include two agreements of reciprocal investments in Iran and Venezuela each worth $760 million, and an agreement for Iran to import 20,000 barrels a day of gasoline from Venezuela, worth $800 million, as of October.