Federal officials are investigating reports that equipment made at a Sparks plant may have ended up in Iran in violation of United States law.
What kind of equipment are we talking about?
Pumps used in the natural gas industry.
United State laws prohibit selling goods to Iran, directly or through a middleman, because it is on the list of states that sponsor terrorism.
The concern, however, goes beyond the possible violation of trade laws to what purpose these pumps might be put.
This Tokyo-based company at 350 Salomon Circle in Sparks makes pumps for a number of uses in the petrochemical industry. But here at its cyrogenics division in Sparks, the product is special pumps used in the natural gas industry.
The U.S. Commerce Department is trying to determine whether pumps made here have somehow ended up in Iran - and if so - how they are being used.
The pumps were apparently sold to a French firm . . . Technip.
Technip holds a contract for construction of a plastics plant in southwestern Iran and says that's where they were used. The Washington Times reported the pumps could be used in a nuclear facility.
The French company says they were not and Ebara officials say their pumps could not be put to that use in any case.
Speaking by phone from San Francisco, a spokesman said the company is cooperating fully with the federal government and says it has never knowingly sold equipment destined for countries on the state sponsor of terrorism list.
That issue of foreknowledge is a key point.
Sources tell us in cases that involve a resale of American made equipment to one of these countries, it must be shown the American company knew where the equipment was headed.
If there is such proof, the penalties are heavy, up to 10 years in prison and fines of up to a million dollars for the company.
We're talking about international trade and it is hard to keep track of items like this. It's easier with some products that only have a military use.
These pumps may be put to more than one use.
Natural gas is what they were intended for. They could - we assume - be used in a plastics plant as alleged.
Knowlegable sources point out that there are steps in nuclear weapons production that require refrigeration and perhaps they could be used there. Again, the company says no.