WASHINGTON – A Northern California man with dual U.S.-Iranian citizenship has been arrested in Estonia and flown to New York on federal felony charges that he tried to acquire illegal surface-to-air missiles for the government in Tehran.
Federal authorities announced Friday that Reza Olangian, a resident of Los Gatos, faces life in prison if convicted of conspiring to obtain the weapons and violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. He is accused of repeatedly meeting, phoning and emailing a U.S. undercover agent disguised as someone who could provide the weapons designed to shoot down helicopters and other small aircraft.
Olangian allegedly told a confidential source that "if all is well, we will live happily ever after."
Olangian was arrested at an airport in Estonia in October 2012 and extradited to this country in March. On Friday morning, a multi-count indictment was unsealed in U.S. District Court in New York. Olangian, a businessman nicknamed Ray, became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1999 and traveled extensively with a U.S. passport, setting himself up with an office in Tehran.
Olangian told U.S. officials after his arrest that he had tried unsuccessfully to acquire surface-to-air missiles (SAMS) for Iran in 2007, and that both times he was working directly on behalf of the Iranian government, said Derek S. Odney, a special agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Olangian said that in 2012 he was working for “two individuals who represented themselves” as employees of the ministry and that, after multiple meetings, “engaged” him to obtain the missiles, Odney said. But the Iranians wanted “assurances” that the transaction “was likely to go forward.”
Olangian told Odney that he assured the Iranians he had seen one of the missiles provided by the confidential undercover agent, and that he was making efforts to have more of the missiles and other parts "inspected," Odney said in an affidavit filed with the court papers.
The identity of the undercover agent was not disclosed. Court documents show that he represented himself as a broker from Russia "who could supply weaponry and other items," and many of their conversations and emails were in both Russian and Persian.
In their meetings, conversations and electronic messages, Olangian appeared eager to get the missiles into Iran but also worried that the missiles and their parts first must be fully inspected. He also at times seemed gleeful that a lot of money was to be made through the deal. "That would make us both very rich," he is reported to have told the agent.
At times he reportedly told the agent he wanted "at least 200 … minimum 200" missiles, and discussed moving the weapons to Iran through its border with Afghanistan. But he also sometimes reflected on his failed attempt in 2007 and, according to court records, told the undercover agent that he had "talked to these people here" and that "we just don't want to do the same mistake" again.
Olangian has not yet entered a formal plea in the case.