Erdal Kuyumcu, the CEO of Global Metallurgy LLC, was indicted this week on charges that he shipped an EAR99 chemical to Iran through a middleman in Turkey. The criminal complaint provides the details of the government’s case, which, charitably speaking, seems weak.
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ABOVE: Erdal Kuyumcu
In order to sustain a criminal conviction, it must be demonstrated that Kuyumcu knew that the chemical that he shipped from the United States to Turkey was going to be re-exported to Iran. In support of this, the government cites a number of emails unrelated to the shipments at issue, where the Turkish company and Mr. Kuyumcu had an email exchange about a trip the head of the Turkish company referred to as “flying out to the neighbor’s” and which Mr. Kuyumcu replied “Good luck at the neighbor’s.” The FBI agent signing the criminal complaint said that based on his “training” and “experience,” this was a coded reference to Iran and this coded language is proof that Kuyumcu was aware that the chemical he later shipped to Turkey was going to be re-exported to Iran. It’s hard to see the connection here. And it’s not hard to imagine that there are a number of innocent reasons why foreigners might not want to have all their email sniffed by the NSA after the NSA’s email sweeps see the word Iran.
There are two emails connected to the shipments at issue that the government cites, but these are not conclusive either. In both emails, Mr. Kuyumcu, in response to an inquiry from the U.S. supplier of the EAR99 chemical for the name of the end user, asks the Turkish company to provide the name of a “friendly” company in Turkey with a website and that uses the chemical. The FBI agent believes this is a slam dunk:
Based on my training and experience, and on the foregoing emails between KUYUMCU and Co-Conspirator #1, where KUYUMCU asks for the name of “a friend company with a website … that uses this material,” and specifically directs Co-Conspirator #1 to the “email below” from the Ohio Company asking the name of the end-user company, KUYUMCU was asking Co-Conspirator #1 to fabricate end-user information using the name of a “friend[ly]” company whose name could be provided to the Ohio Company [the supplier] in an effort to conceal that the true end user of the Cobalt Compound was Iranian Company #!.
That might be one explanation, but there is certainly an equally reasonable one, particularly for anyone with experience and training not from Quantico but from actual business. Middlemen never like to give the name of end users to their suppliers. They regularly refuse to provide the information or provide incorrect information, not because they’re busy selling stuff to Iran, but because they don’t want their supplier to cut them out and start dealing with the end user directly.
The FBI affidavit is full of questionable appeals as above to his “training and experience,” but there is one particularly amusing reference to his training and experience. Some time after the shipment in question, and without reference to it, Mr. Kuyumcu sent an email that said in part: “H]ave you heard anything from the neighbor? :)” The FBI Agent had this to say about the email:
Based on my training and experience, the colon followed by a close parenthesis in the above quote represents a smiley face.
Seriously? At Quantico they have a class to teach FBI Agents that a colon followed by a close parenthesis represents a smiley face? Do they teach them as well that a colon followed by a zero represents a shocked face? And that *<|:‑) is Santa Claus? I know a bunch of these, so can I get paid to teach that class? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Outside of this unintentionally clueless hilarity from the FBI agent, this is really a classic demonstration that when he throws around throughout the complaint references to his “training and experience,” he might be basing his conclusions on something far less compelling than his actual training or experience despite what he claims.