US prosecutors have charged a man from Sierra Leone with trying to sell US undercover agents 1,000 tons of yellowcake uranium he thought would be shipped to Iran.
In Iran, Alaeddin Borujerdi, chairman of the Majlis National Security Committee, accused the United States of lying in an effort to give the world the false impression that Iran was trying to import uranium. But the United States did not accuse Iran of having any involvement in the case.
Patrick Campbell, 33, of Freetown, Sierra Leone, was arrested at John F. Kennedy International Airport last Wednesday after he arrived from Sierra Leone with the sample of uranium concealed in shoes in his luggage, according to a criminal complaint filed in a Florida federal court last Thursday.
Court filings said he responded to an ad in May 2012 on the website Alibaba.com. The ad solicited uranium. It was placed by an undercover US agent posing as an American broker representing persons in Iran, according to an affidavit by Homeland Security investigator Louise Miller.
Campbell agreed to travel to Miami to meet the supposed buyer, who could then analyze the purity of the uranium.
Campbell faces up to 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine if he is found guilty of violating US sanctions against Iran.
Campbell said he was affiliated with a company engaged in mining and selling of uranium, gold and diamonds for export and communicated via telephone, Skype and email that he was seeking to sell processed uranium 308, also known as yellowcake, to be delivered to Iran, Miller stated.
The uranium was to be disguised in a mix with other types of ore. The shipment for delivery to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas was to yield 1,000 tons of yellowcake, according to the criminal complaint filed with the court.
The document said Camp-bell admitted to agents after his arrest that he had engaged in talks for “a contract for the sale of uranium to be delivered to Iran.”
He also admitted he had brought a sample of the raw uranium ore. “Campbell assisted the agents in removing the uranium from beneath the inside soles of his shoes and plastic bags containing uranium were recovered from two of Campbell’s shoes,” according to the complaint.
A contract for the sale and delivery of the uranium was also found on a portable thumb drive in Campbell’s possession.
Deputy Borujerdi slammed the news report as a “joke.” He said Iran doesn’t need to buy uranium from other countries. Actually, Iran has very little uranium ore and will need to import vast quantities if it actually builds the 20,000 megawatts of electricity generating capacity it has announced it wants to produce in nuclear reactors.
Borujerdi said, “Iran is among the producers of yellowcake. Therefore, the claim is designed to impact Iran’s talks with the Big Six under the new [Rohani] Administration.”
But the prosecutors never suggested Iran had any involvement in the scheme. In fact, they expressly said Campbell was just fooled into believing Iran was involved.
Some thought Borujerdi’s verbal assault represented ignorance on his part, while others thought he knew full well what he was saying and was just continuing his long effort to paint the United States in the worst light, no matter what the facts were.