Even as tensions simmer between Iran and the West over Teheran's nuclear program, security sources in Germany say around 100 dummy firms are illegally exporting arms to the Islamic country.
German firms have allegedly been supplying parts for Iran's missiles
Speaking to German public broadcaster ARD on Monday, security experts confirmed that as many as up to 100 dummy firms in Germany are involved in illegally exporting components for missiles and aircraft to Iran.
Johannes Schmalzl, president of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution in the state of Baden-Württemberg, told the program "Report Mainz" that the situation wasn't entirely new.
Plutonium tablets at a nuclear facility in Germany
"We've been devoting time to the topic since 2002," he said. "And we've concluded that an estimated 100 dummy firms in Germany are involved in it."
Schmalzl added that the authorities could hardly keep up with the scale of illegal exports to Iran.
"When I say, 100 dummy firms, you can imagine that when we discover one and the federal prosecutor opens a case against them, we're happy and pat ourselves on the back. But 99 others are still in business," Schmalzl said.
Shopping for illegal arms
The television program reported that most of the exports were designed to refine and perfect Iran's missile program, which is widely considered a key part of Teheran's ambitions to establish itself as a serious nuclear and military power. Many say it would pose a direct threat to Israel.
According to the station, for years Iran has been sending agents on shopping trips to Europe and to Germany in order to improve the reach and precision of their missiles.
Most of the Iranian spies disguised the arms exports through a maze of trade firms and distributions points both within Iran and abroad. According to German authorities, such networks served to mislead authorities and facilitate the illegal exports.
"We're talking about companies made up one to three persons who don't necessarily produce anything themselves but rather order something from the producers and then conceal where the stuff is going," Karl-Heinz Matthias, president of the Federal Customs Office, told ARD.
German exports not meant for Iran alone
Even as the standoff between Iran and the international community over Teheran's alleged covert nuclear program continues, experts point out that Iran's missile program has never been a secret.
Abdul Qadeer Khan also known as the "Father of the Pakistani bomb"
"A country, which like Iran intensively works on missiles, only does this in order to be able to put nuclear weapons on the missiles," Oliver Thränert of the Berlin-based German Institute for International and Security Affairs told the television station. "Iran is certainly far removed from that, but in the end, Iran's goal seems to be to fire nuclear weapons with its missiles."
However, German firms' involvement in illegal arms exports is not confined to Iran alone. Since the 1980s, German firms and middlemen, along with counterparts in other European countries, have been suspected of smuggling nuclear technology to regimes in Pakistan and North Korea. Last Friday, a court in Mannheim began hearing the case of a German engineer accused of aiding Libya's nuclear program and being involved with the global nuclear mafia run by discredited Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan.