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US man jailed for selling banned computers to Iran


A US citizen has been jailed for illegally supplying more than $2.1 million worth of top-end computer equipment to Iran. Regarded as a pariah state by many, the Islamist nation has been placed on a Washington blacklist for high-tech exports.

Johnny Tourino, 69, of Orange County, California, was sentenced to a year and a half in prison and ordered to pay $20,000 in restitution by a federal court.

He was also compelled to forfeit the money he made selling five top-notch computer servers to two Iranian banks, Mellat and Keshavarzi, between 2015 and 2017. These came with first-class encryption to shield their activities from scrutiny by the authorities.

Tourino ran a computer services company called Spectra Equipment, which he used to make the illicit exports. Though he eventually pleaded guilty, he initially lied about the destination of the exports, telling the manufacturer that the servers were destined for countries in Africa.

But the deeper he got, the more he was obliged to take risks to consolidate his profits. After the US Treasury blocked payments to Tourino, he deleted the emails exchanged between himself and the Iranian banks and petitioned the department, falsely stating that the servers were now going to Slovenia.

“Mr. Tourino knowingly violated US law and sanctions by attempting to sell millions of dollars’ worth of computer equipment to Iran and doing business with sanctioned Iranian banks that have been the lifeblood of Iran’s international acts of terror and nuclear weapons program,” said attorney Martin Estrada of the US Department of Justice.

Donald Alway, a spokesman for the FBI, which helped to bring Tourino to justice, said his actions “violated US economic and trade sanctions and [...] potentially aided an oppressive terrorist regime and put America’s long-term security interests at risk.”

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which also helped with Tourino’s investigation, weighed in on the verdict too, stressing the underlying threat to national security.

“Tourino attempted to profit from a far-reaching, extensive scheme to evade US sanctions on Iran,” said IRS special agent Tyler Hatcher. “Tourino repeatedly lied to illegally obtain and supply dual-use items to a foreign nation.”

Whether the computer servers, valued at $2.1 million in total, will indeed be put to nefarious purposes by Iran is difficult to confirm, as the US authorities have stated that the items in question are unrecoverable.


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