The recent grounding of an Iranian Airbus at the Birmingham airport in the United Kingdom illustrates the US efforts to tighten sanctions against Iran but, at the same time shows a bizarre inconsistency in American attitude. Those who are sanctioned by US for selling aircrafts to Iran are very welcome here in Washington to spend their money and influence US policy with Iran. In fact, buying political influence in favor of Mullahs is much easier than selling them used airplanes. A revealing example is the case of the seized Airbus.
In 2006, the London based Balli group bought six used Boeings and by a detour of several inter-related facade companies, leased three of them to Mahan Air in Iran belonging to Rafsanjani's clan. The three others were stopped in South Korea while waiting an overhaul.
In 2008, the Us bureau of Industry and Security "BIS" issued a Temporary Denial Order against "Balli" and "Mahan Air" and later in 2010, Balli pled guilty to illegally exporting the aircrafts to Iran and agreed to pay $15 million in fines.
The Balli group belongs to Vahid and Hassan Alaghband, Iranian citizens with close ties to the inner circle of Iran's economic clans. Three years ago, I published an article titled: "Iranian web of influence in the US" and explained their business in Iran including Caterpillar and Xerox.
While Alaghbands have been punished for violating US sanctions on Iran, they have used their financial clout to influence policy circles in Washington.
Official documents suggest that Vahid Alaghband has been a major donor to US based PARSA Foundation. This foundation and its president Noosheen Hashemi have been since 2006, principal donors to NIAC, a pro-Tehran group that lobbies the Congress and administration to remove sanctions on Iran. Recently, PARSA granted $446000 to NIAC.
But Alaghbands' investment in politics does not stop here. According to documents, from 2007 till 2009, they pledged $900.000 to the Washington based Brookings institution. Strangely enough, the think tank that was until then dormant on Iran issues, suddenly woke up and started to produce an unprecedented number of round tables and publications that preached friendship and "dialogue" with the mullahs.
Suzanne Maloney a former Exxon Mobile advisor and then a senior fellow at Brookings led these pro-engagement efforts. In 2008, Maloney and her husband Ray Takeyh were asked by Brookings and the Council on Foreign Relations to write an advisory report for the next President on how best to deal with Iran. They came up with "Pathway to Coexistence: A New U.S. Policy toward Iran". The report's title is explicit enough.
In 2008, Brookings and Maloney collaborated with US institute of Peace to launch the "Iran Working Group" that organized meetings and published reports on how to deal with Iran. With no surprise, the result was in favor of coexistence and engagement with the Mullahs. Had the Alaghband's contributed to this sudden "pro-engagement rush" at the Brookings ? One thing is certain, successful businessmen like Alaghbands do not take futile risks.
The Grounding of the Iranian Airbus and Alaghbands' "charitable" donations suggest that American global chase to tighten sanctions and punish violators should start here in Washington.