Couple helped smuggle aircraft parts to Iran through Crawley company

An example of an F4 Phantom fighter jet, parts of which were smuggled into Iran by Alexander George. Picture: USAF
An example of an F4 Phantom fighter jet, parts of which were smuggled into Iran by Alexander George. Picture: USAF

A couple were involved in trafficking aircraft parts to Iran through their Crawley company in violation of Weapons of Mass Destruction controls.

Alexander George, 77, from Bristol, has been jailed for two-and-a-half years following an investigation by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

George sourced components for aircraft from the US and sent them through buffer companies and countries, ending up in Iran, a court heard.

Some of the parts involved were for Russian MiG and US F4 Phantom fighter jets, HMRC said.

Paul Attwater, 65, and his 66-year-old wife Iris, who ran Pairs Aviation Ltd from Crawley, were both given suspended six-month prison sentences last month, according to HMRC.

The tax regulator said the couple sourced dual-use aircraft parts from the US and shipped them to George’s companies in Malaysia and Dubai, which then sent them to Iran.

Dual-use parts can be used for either military or civilian applications.

HMRC said the couple were not involved in trafficking the MiG and F4 Phantom parts.

Both now live in Telford in Shropshire.

HMRC investigators found George was shipping the aircraft parts to Iran via companies he owned in Malaysia and Dubai.

He brought in the Attwaters to try and hide the smuggling operation further and they shipped parts, including those that they knew were restricted under Weapons of Mass Destruction controls, through their company, HMRC said.

Simon York, director of HMRC’s Fraud Investigation Service, said: “These three sold banned items that ended up in Iran. They didn’t care what these parts might be used for, as long as they got paid.

“This was a calculated and cynical attempt to undermine strict trade embargoes and internationally agreed controls.

“They knew the rules and weaved increasingly elaborate plans to stay under the radar.

“This case, and these sentences, send a clear warning to others that if you try and shift illegal goods to sanctioned and embargoed countries – we will catch you and you will face justice.”

Effective controls and enforcement on Weapons of Mass Destruction, military and dual-use goods contribute to the UK’s national security and is a priority for the UK government.

The UK operates a strict licensing regime to uphold international sanctions and to ensure military equipment and dual-use items, which could be used by both the military and civilian sectors, do not fall into the wrong hands.

According to HMRC, George bought the aircraft parts from the United States and sent them to his companies in Malaysia and Dubai before illegally sending them on to Iran.

But he became concerned he was being investigated and even searched the internet to find out who was wanted by the FBI, CIA and Interpol for selling aircraft parts to Iran.

George then brought in the Attwaters, who operated Pairs Aviation Ltd from Crawley to act as a buffer by ordering the parts and shipping them to George’s companies in Malaysia.

A number of exports from Pairs Aviation had been blocked by early 2010 over fears the items were ending up in Iran, the tax regulator said.

All three directors were warned about exporting without a licence.

George was questioned by HMRC officers at Heathrow Airport in August and December 2010 and denied he was dealing in aircraft parts. He told officers he was dealing in wheelbarrows, goggles and gloves for the construction industry.

The trio decided to add an extra layer to the supply chain in a bid to further disguise their criminal trade, HMRC said.

They began shipping the items to Holland, in the name of a company registered in the British Virgin Islands called Wiky Global Corp, before they were sent to Malaysia and then Iran.

George and Iris Attwater were convicted of knowingly exporting controlled military or dual-use goods between February 2010 and March 2016 after a trial at Southwark Crown Court.

Paul Attwater changed his plea to guilty towards the end of the trial.

The Attwaters were each sentenced to a six-month suspended prison sentence at the same court on October 26, 2018.

George was sentenced to two-and-a-half years at the Old Bailey last Thursday (November 22, 2018).

HMRC estimates that George made profits of more than £5 million from the illegal sales and the Attwaters made a further £500,000 profit.

Action to recover the money, under the Proceeds of Crime Act, will now follow.

Luke Dockwray, senior specialist prosecutor at the Crown Prosecution Service, said: “Alex George, Paul Attwater and Iris Attwater sold aircraft components to countries and customers they knew required a license from the government.

“Despite being warned the goods they were exporting were at risk of being used in a Weapons of Mass Destruction programme, the defendants introduced new corporate entities into the trading chain to disguise the destination of the sales, in order to continue their supply.

“The CPS worked closely with HMRC to present the complex trading chains to the jury to demonstrate the criminal activity of these defendants.”