CHARLESTON, S.C. (CN) – The manager of a Russian oil firm was arrested this weekend on charges that the company has been illegally exporting goods to Iran.
Markos Baghdasarian, president of Delfin Group USA, was apprehended at the Hartsfield International Airport in Atlanta, just prior to boarding a flight Saturday to the United Arab Emirates, prosecutors said.
Baghdasarian faces a criminal complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina over exported aviation engine oils and polymers valued at $850,000. Prosecutors say Baghdasarian shipped the products to Iran without the required U.S. Treasury Department licenses, and that he falsified government documents to do so.
If convicted, Baghdasarian could face a maximum of 20 years in federal prison. He made his first appearance before a magistrate judge in the Northern District of Georgia on March 22.
In a move that was hailed as a major economic development coup, the Delfin Group bought a former Chevron site in North Charleston, 15 minutes from downtown, four years ago.
Delfin Group Russia, formerly Luxoil, has operated plants in Moscow and in Riga, Latvia, for decades, and established its first offices in the U.S. in 2006.
In an article for the Charleston Regional Business Journal at the time, this reporter learned that Baghdasarian had initially planned to set up a U.S. purchasing office.
But that idea changed when Baghdasarian met and hired Tony Williams, a South Carolina native and 30-year veteran of the oil and lubricant industries to help him with U.S. operations. Together the two men scouted sites near Savannah and Atlanta, but ultimately settled on the former Chevron site because operations on the site could easily grow with production and because the facility had a pre-existing rail connection.
Williams, a Delfin vice president, has not been implicated in his colleague’s alleged criminal activities. It is not possible to tell from the company’s website whether he is still with the firm.
In 2008, however, he told this reporter that Delfin planned to ship raw oils and additives to the North Charleston facility, where they would be mixed, bottled and prepared for sale to automotive, commercial and industrial users. At the time, Williams said, the company’s principal markets would be Europe, North and West Africa, and the Asian Pacific rim.
An affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint against Baghdasarian states that the manager engaged in prohibited transactions with customers in Iran, including Pars Oil, which is an oil company owned by the government of Iran, from as early as June 13, 2010, until Oct. 12, 2011.
U.S. persons and companies are prohibited from engaging in commercial transactions involving Iran unless authorized by the U.S. Department of Treasury.
The affidavit goes on to state that Baghdasarian exported aviation engine oils and polymer valued at $850,000 to Iran in August 2011.
Baghdasarian is also alleged to have tried to conceal his business with Iranian customers by falsely asserting in an official document that the products were meant for a business entity in the United Arab Emirates.