A French court rejected on Wednesday a U.S. request to extradite an Iranian engineer, who Washington said had illegally bought electronic equipment for military use in violation of a trade embargo on Iran.
The U.S. Justice Department said it was “deeply disappointed” by the decision and promised to pursue the case.
Majid Kakavand was arrested in March 2009 at a Paris airport after the United States had issued a warrant accusing him of buying goods worth about $1.2 million from U.S. companies and routing the purchases via Malaysia to avoid the embargo.
The United States said the equipment, which was bought off the Internet, might have been adapted for military projects in Iran and accused Kakavand of lying about his intentions.
“We’re disappointed by the French court ruling, but will continue to seek justice in this matter,” Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said in Washington. “Efforts to apprehend Kakavand are ongoing and should he come into U.S. custody, he will stand trial for his alleged crimes.”
The United States said one of the Iranian companies that finally received the goods had been linked by both the European Union and Washington to nuclear and missile production in Iran.
However, an investigation by the French economy and defence ministries concluded that Kakavand had not broken French law which meant he could not be extradited.
Among the equipment Kakavand bought were sensors, antenna, GPS systems and capacitors.
The United States has been aggressively trying to stop technology being smuggled to Iran for military purposes adding to previous efforts to target specific firms that support Iran’s nuclear development and missile technology.
The 37-year-old Iranian engineer served five months in detention in a French jail after his arrest and was later freed on bail pending Wednesday’s court ruling.
“I am going to catch the first flight to Tehran,” Kakavand told reporters after the hearing, showing them his passport which had just been given back to him.
Major world powers, including the United States and France, are negotiating a fourth set of U.N. Security Council sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programme, which the West says is aimed at making the atomic bomb.
The Kakavand case has been running alongside the trial of Clothilde Reiss, a French teaching assistant who was arrested last July in Iran after she posted photographs on the Internet of protests against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
She was accused of spying and is currently on bail, staying in the French embassy in Tehran pending a verdict in her case.
Ahmadinejad said last September that France should consider a prisoner swap if Paris wanted to secure Reiss’s release.
He did not name which Iranian prisoners he wanted to see freed, but attention focused on an Iranian national who is serving a life sentence for the 1991 murder in France of Shapour Bakhtiar — Iran’s last prime minister under the Shah.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy dismissed Ahmadinejad’s suggestion as “blackmail”.