A Chinese financier who peddles nuclear weapons material to Iran was indicted Tuesday for illegally running tens of millions of dollars through a half-dozen New York banks.
Le Fang Wei, 37, duped six unwitting banks with an assortment of aliases and phony businesses despite a federal banking ban against him, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau said.
Wei was charged with conspiracy and falsifying records. The Daily News exclusively reported details of the plot Tuesday.
Although Wei used the same phony aliases for banking and for material sales, authorities made no direct connection between the New York banks and Iran's nuclear program.
"We cannot point to any specific U.S. dollar payment for WMDs, although our investigation suggests there were some," said a Morgenthau spokeswoman.
Morgenthau made it clear that Iran's WMD program was at the heart of the financial finagling.
"There's not much doubt that the use is for weapons," he said. "There is no greater threat to the world today than Iran's efforts to procure nuclear weapons and long range ballistics missiles."
Wei was barred from doing business with any U.S. banks in June 2006 because of his support for Iran's program for weapons of mass destruction.
Prosecutors said he turned to using fake names and non-existent companies to collect money funneled through the banks.
"We may not be able to shut down Mr. Wei's factory, but we can shine a spotlight on his conduct and the conduct of the foreign banks that permit these types of operations to flourish," Morgenthau said.
"We're going to try to extradite him," Morgenthau said.
Asked if he expected the Chinese government to assist, Morgenthau replied, "We're always optimists."