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Arms dealer tried to buy U.S. weapons for Iran, officials say

By Terry Frieden, CNN Justice Producer
  • An arms dealer was secretly arrested in 2007 for trying to buy U.S. weapons, officials say
  • Amir Hossein Ardebili was captured in the Eastern European nation of Georgia
  • Officials say Ardebili tried to buy weapons and equipment for the Iranian government

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- An Iranian arms dealer who tried to illegally purchase U.S. weapons for the Tehran government was secretly charged, arrested and extradited, and has pleaded guilty, federal authorities revealed Wednesday.

Amir Hossein Ardebili of Shiraz, Iran, was captured by Georgian agents in a sting operation in the Eastern European nation of Georgia in 2007. He was transported to Wilmington, Delaware, where he was held, and he pleaded guilty in 2008, officials said.

The case was kept under wraps for two years while U.S. authorities tracked leads gleaned from Ardebili's computer that helped reveal Iran's secret campaign to buy sensitive U.S. military equipment, the officials said.

In his meetings with undercover agents, Ardebili had requested missile and aircraft parts and night vision equipment, officials said.

Wednesday's disclosures were announced by David Weiss, the U.S. attorney for Delaware, and John Morton, assistant secretary of homeland security for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency in Wilmington.

"For years the defendant was in the business of acquiring components, many with military applications, for the government of Iran," Weiss said. "This investigation and prosecution has put the defendant out of business and removed this threat to our national security."

Officials said Philadelphia-based undercover agents with the immigration agency first began tracking Ardebili in 2004.

In documents released Wednesday, Ardebili is quoted as saying he wanted to purchase the equipment to help Iran in what he said was an expected war with the United States.

Ardebili is scheduled to be sentenced December 14 by a federal judge in Wilmington.