UK Firm Pleads Guilty to Exporting Boeing 747 Aircraft to Iran

On February 5, 2010, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that Balli Aviation Ltd., a subsidiary of United Kingdom-based Balli Group PLC, pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to a two-count criminal information in connection with its illegal export of commercial Boeing 747 aircraft from the United States to Iran. (BIS' press release can be found here.)

The DOJ announced:

Under the plea agreement, Balli Aviation Ltd. agreed to pay a $2 million criminal fine and be placed on corporate probation for five years.  The $2 million fine, combined with a related $15 million civil settlement among Balli Group PLC, Balli Aviation Ltd., the U.S. Department of Commerce's Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS), and the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), that was also announced today, represents one of the largest fines for an export violation in BIS history.  

Under the terms of the related civil settlement, Balli Group PLC and Balli Aviation Ltd. have agreed to pay a civil penalty of $15 million of which $2 million will be suspended if there are no further export control violations.  In addition, Balli Aviation Ltd. and Balli Group PLC are denied export privileges for five years, although this penalty will be suspended provided that neither Balli Aviation nor Balli Group commits any export violations and pays the civil penalty.  Under the terms of the settlement, Balli Group PLC and Balli Aviation, Ltd. will also have to submit the results of an independent audit of its export compliance program to BIS and OFAC for each of the next five years.

According to count one of the information filed with the court, beginning in at least October 2005, through October 2008, Balli Aviation Ltd. conspired to export three Boeing 747 aircraft from the United States to Iran without first having obtained the required export license from BIS or authorization from OFAC, in violation of the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) and the Iranian Transactions Regulations. More particularly, the information states that Balli Aviation Ltd., through its subsidiaries, the Blue Sky Companies, purchased U.S.-origin aircraft with financing obtained from an Iranian airline and caused these aircraft to be exported to Iran without obtaining the required U.S. government licenses.  Further, Balli Aviation Ltd. entered into lease arrangements that permitted the Iranian airline to use the U.S.-origin aircraft for flights in and out of Iran. 

Count two of the information states that Balli Aviation Ltd. violated a Temporary Denial Order (TDO) issued by BIS  on March 17, 2008, that prohibited the company from conducting any transaction involving any item subject to the EAR.  Starting in or about March 2008 and continuing through about August 2008, Balli Aviation Ltd.  willfully violated the TDO by carrying on negotiations with others concerning buying, receiving, using, selling and delivering U.S.-origin aircraft which went  to the Export Administration Regulations.

"Today's case should serve as further warning of Iran's continued efforts to circumvent sanctions and obtain U.S. technology.  Together with our colleagues from the Justice and Commerce departments, OFAC will continue to aggressively pursue both domestic and foreign entities that seek to violate U.S. sanctions programs by exporting goods to Iran from the United States."  said Adam J. Szubin, Director, Office of Foreign Assets Control.