Armenian Customs Chief Denies Sensitive Equipment Sales to Iran

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The head of the Armenian customs–Armen Avetisian–has denied US claims that an Armenian biochemical company sold sensitive technology or equipment to neighboring Iran–according to a newspaper report published on Wednesday.

The daily "Haykakan Zhamanak" quoted Avetisian as saying that his agency–which has checkpoints on the country’s main border crossings–did not register any exports that could help Iran develop weapons of mass destruction. He also claimed that the United States lacks evidence to substantiate its sanctions against the Lizin company and businessman Armen Sargsyan.

"I don’t know what they mean–but I rule out the export of such technology," the told the paper. "In my view–if the Americans had concrete facts–they would have publicized them and have not come up with a general statement."

Sargsyan and Lizin’s largest shareholder–Ashot Ohanian–have issued similar denials.

Avetisian’s commen’s contradict–however–statemen’s made by Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian on Saturday. Oskanian effectively admitted that Lizin did sell sensitive "products" to Iran last year. He revealed that the US had warned official Yerevan at the time that products sold by Lizin could have a dual – civilian and military – use.

The US Federal Register–which listed 12 sanctioned Armenian–Chinese and Moldovan entities on May 16–did not specify the nature of their activities. It said only that the sanctions were imposed under the Iran Non-Proliferation Act of 2000–which prohibits the sale of chemical and biological weapons components and missiles and missile technology to the Islamic Republic.

Still–various informed Armenian sources believe that the two-year penalties stem from last year’s sale of Lizin’s equipment to a trading company registered in the United Arab Emirates. The $102,000 deal was documented by the government’s Commission on Securities.

The facilities used for the production of lysine–an amino acid used as an additive in animal fodder. They can also be used to produce proteins that enhance blood resistance to nuclear radiation. Scientists say the equipment can also make other biological substances.

It is not clear whether the Lizin equipment is covered by international control lists that seek to curb exports of chemical–biological and nuclear weapons. Oskanian said the private firm–which is partly owned by an Iranian citizen of Armenian descent–did not need the government’s permission to export it.

According to "Haykakan Zhamanak," US government officials were allowed to inspect the factory last year after alerting the authorities to its allegedly shady deals with the Iranians.

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