Mumbai, Apr 22: A UN Security Council resolution prohibits the export of nuclear-grade graphite, a key material needed for the manufacture of a nuclear bomb, to Iran. A Mumbai-based export firm was allegedly caught doing precisely that by an alert customs officer in October 2007.
It was issued a showcause notice by the customs department last week for alleged violation of the Customs Act and the foreign trade policy.
The export consignment of Nickunj Eximp Enterprises, containing 1,150 kg of graphite, was apprehended by the official who became suspicious of the cylindrical shape of the goods. The consignment, stopped at the air cargo complex (ACC), was on its way to Ward Commercial Company, a private firm in Tehran.
Bhabha Atomic Research Centre experts, who were asked to take samples, confirmed that it was nuclear-grade graphite. One more consignment of graphite of Nickunj Eximp headed for Dubai was stopped after the ACC action.
Firm had got N-graphite from local dealers
Customs officials told The Times Of India that Nickunj Eximp Enterprises Pvt Ltd authorities, when questioned, said the graphite was procured from local dealers. When customs officials followed the trail, they apparently found that it was imported at Rs 50 per kg from China and was being exported to Iran at Rs 2,000 a kg.
Indian intelligence agencies and the department of atomic energy met customs officials after the seizure. DAE gives licences for export of graphite but export to or import from Iran of nuclear-grade graphite is prohibited. The directorate of revenue intelligence is now monitoring all exports of graphite.
According to officials, when asked by customs investigators how he had matched the specifications of the graphite he bought with that quoted by Ward Commercial Company, Nickunj Eximp director Nickunj Shah replied that he had bought the consignment from local dealers in good faith. He added that he was unaware of the commerce ministry’s notification of September 7, 2007, listing goods banned from being exported to Iran, before he filed the shipping bill for his consignment.
Shah is also a supplier of EDM (electric discharge machine) wires and graphite parts to BARC. His company sells explosive and narcotic detectors to police agencies and army outfits in India. When contacted by TOI , he refused to talk on a matter pending before the commissioner of customs and also threatened legal action if TOI wrote about the case.