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Belgian man faces US smuggling charges

A crest of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is seen August 3, 2007 inside the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building in Washington, DC
A crest of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is seen August 3, 2007 inside the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building in Washington, DC.

A Belgian businessman accused of trying to smuggle aluminum tubes to Iran was set to be arraigned in Chicago Thursday on charges of violating US export restrictions, prosecutors said.

Nicholas Kaiga, 36, has been in a federal prison since his June arrest in New York and faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Charging papers allege that the plot began in 2007 when a suburban Chicago company was contacted by an Iranian businessman interested in buying the specialized tubes, which are typically used in the aerospace industry.

The US government has placed tight restrictions on the export of items which can have military applications.

The unnamed company contacted the FBI and agreed to participate in a sting operation, eventually helping an undercover agent pose as an employee.

Kaiga -– who was the managing director of Belgian-based Industrial Metals and Commodities -- allegedly got involved in 2009.

Prosecutors said he tried to get around the controls by pretending the tubes were destined only for Belgium – which is not subject to export restrictions.

Kaiga allegedly shipped the tubes to an Iranian front company in Malaysia two months after they arrived in Belgium on December 1, 2011.

But the tubes were no good -– the Chicago company had deliberately substituted a different kind of aluminum.

When Kaiga tried to resolve the problem -– first through phone calls and then the June meeting in a New York restaurant –- he ended up providing prosecutors with more evidence.

He was caught on tape admitting the shipment "was for Malaysia," the 29-page charging document showed.

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