Since then, the mystery has taken another turn. European security officials and former workers have raised questions about whether the high-tech equipment and material at MCS could have been part of a scheme to aid Iran’s rogue nuclear program.
Questions have arisen about the tangled ownership of MCS, which until recently was tied to a former Iranian minister of intelligence, and about the blocked attempt to export sophisticated machinery to Iran.
MCS has never been cited for violating sanctions on trade with Iran, and one of the company’s owners said it has done nothing wrong.
“For sure, the Iranian people try all their best to turn around the sanctions, but not in my company,” said Eshagh Hajizadeh, a Canadian citizen who bought the assets of the company in 2011. “I never want anybody in this world to have access to nuclear. It is against humanity.”
With the United States, Germany and other Western countries trying to tighten sanctions on Iran to slow its nuclear program, the MCS mystery demonstrates the difficulty of tracking the flow of technology and material that have civilian and military applications.
“Where we have dual-use technology, it is not easy to control simply by checking goods,” said Wolfgang Schmitz, a spokesman for the German Customs Investigations Bureau. “You need more info about the contract and the possible criminal elements inside it.”
One of the dual-use materials at MCS was carbon fiber, which is often used in the aerospace and automotive fields because of its extreme strength, resistance to heat and light weight. MCS used carbon fiber to build high-
pressure gas tanks for compressed natural gas and hydraulic systems. More than 2,600 pounds of the material still sits inside the plant.
Carbon fiber’s strength and heat resistance also make the material essential for advanced centrifuges. The cylindrical machines spin at supersonic speeds to enrich uranium, which can be used to fuel civilian nuclear plants or, at higher concentrations, to make fissile material for atomic weapons.
U.N. inspectors and intelligence officials say Iran has been trying to build large numbers of the advanced centrifuges, known as IR-2Ms, which enrich uranium much faster than its current generation of centrifuges.
But the officials say Iran has been scouring the world’s black markets for the vital carbon fiber. This year, suspicions that Tehran might have discovered a source for the material rose when Iran announced plans to install 3,000 of the advanced centrifuges at its main enrichment facility in Natanz in the central part of the country.