U.S. authorities on Tuesday offered a reward of up to $5 million for the capture of a Chinese businessman, and sanctioned eight of his companies, for allegedly helping Iran procure ballistic missile parts.
Prosecutors in the Manhattan U.S. attorney's office unsealed an indictment against Li Fangwei, also known as Karl Lee, on charges including bank fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering and wire fraud. Li was earlier charged in 2009 by the Manhattan District Attorney with illegally accessing the U.S. financial system as part of a conspiracy to sell missile parts. Treasury officials also sanctioned Li in 2006, seeking to cut him off from the U.S. financial system, however, Li’s companies and their Iranian partners reportedly got around the sanctions with the use of new shell companies.
"According to the Indictment, he (Li) controls a large network of front companies and allegedly uses this network to move millions of dollars through U.S.-based financial institutions to conduct business in violation of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) and the Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferators Sanctions Regulations, which prohibit such financial transactions," the State Department said, in a statement.
In 2013, Li told Reuters in an interview that he had received commercial inquiries from Iran only for legitimate merchandise, adding that his metals company stopped dealing with Iran after the U.S. began sanctioning his firms.
"As we have made clear, we will continue vigorously to enforce our sanctions, even as we explore the possibility of a comprehensive deal addressing Iran's nuclear program," David Cohen, a treasury department official working on Iran sanctions, reportedly said.
According to reports, Iran is scheduled to resume negotiations with the U.S. over its nuclear program on May 13 in Vienna.