Company says it ‘ceased transactions prior to EU sanctions’ when it learned of links with Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran
One of Britain’s biggest companies has made millions of pounds selling goods to Iran, including to a state-owned firm that supplies the regime’s nuclear programme.
Glencore, a commodity trading house run by the billionaire Ivan Glasenberg, traded $659m (£430m) of goods, including aluminium oxide, to Iran last year, the Guardian has established.
The company, which is one of the biggest businesses in the FTSE 100 and has a market value more than three times that of Marks & Spencer, has admitted that some of its aluminium oxide ended up in the hands of Iranian Aluminium Company (Iralco).
Trafigura, another commodity trading house, has also admitted to trading an unspecified aluminium oxide (also known as alumina) with Iralco in the past.
The International Atomic Energy Agency has named Iralco as supplying aluminium to Iran Centrifuge Technology Company (Tesa), which is part of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran (AEOI). Aluminium oxide is an important material in gas centrifuges used to enrich uranium.
At the time of the Glencore and Trafigura trades with Iralco, it was not illegal or a breach of sanctions to supply Iran with alumina. It is unknown whether Glencore or Trafigura’s alumina passed from Iralco to Tesa, or whether it was used in centrifuge construction.
Since 2006, AEOI has been subject to UN sanctions designed to prevent Iran’s nuclear armament ambitions. Trading with Tesa has been specifically banned under US, EU and UK sanctions since July 2010. Iralco was added to the EU sanctions list in December 2012.
Glencore said it “ceased transactions” with Iralco immediately when it learned of its links with Tesa, and the last trade was in October 2012. “Prior to EU sanctions in December 2012, we were not aware of a link/contract between Iralco and Tesa,” the company said in a statement.
Glencore said it is “reliant on the relevant regulatory bodies/governments to advise us on developments in who we can/can’t do business with”.
Tehran, which some experts say already has enough enriched uranium to make several nuclear weapons, is in the middle of upgrading its stock of more than 10,000 centrifuges. The IAEA said Iran is replacing outdated centrifuges with thousands of more powerful IR-2m models.
Experts at the Institute for Science and International Security (Isis) in London said: “Iran is trying to replace maraging [super-strong] steel end-caps with high strength aluminium end-caps.”
Mark Fitzpatrick, director of Isis’s nonproliferation and disarmament programme, said the new centrifuges could enrich uranium four to five times faster than the existing ones. Iran insists its enriched material is for peaceful use, not for nuclear weapons, but it has refused to allow IAEA inspectors into several of its atomic facilities.
The question surrounding Glencore’s role in unintentionally potentially helping arm a nuclear Iran comes as Obama ramps up pressure on Tehran to end its atomic weapons programme. This month, the US secretary of state, John Kerry, said: “We understand the nature of the threat of Iran. And as the president has said many times – he doesn’t bluff. He is serious. We will stand with Israel against this threat and with the rest of the world, who have underscored that all we are looking for is Iran to live up to its international obligations.”
Mark Wallace, a former US ambassador to the UN, said Glencore’s dealings with Iran were “completely unacceptable”, adding: “We might expect this from a Russian or Chinese company, but the truth is that even those companies usually stay away from this sort of exposure.”
Glencore said it “complies with applicable laws and regulations, including applicable sanctions. We closely monitor all new legal developments to ensure that we continue to be in compliance with applicable laws and regulations, including applicable sanctions.”
Details of the firm’s dealings with Iralco were leaked to the media in February, but the company declined to specify how much the deals were worth.
The Guardian has learned that Glencore traded $659m worth of metals, wheat and coal with Iranian entities during 2012. Buried deep in its annual report, one of Glencore’s US affiliates, Century Aluminium, 46% owned by Glencore, states: “During 2012 non-US affiliates of the largest stockholder of the company [Glencore] entered into sales contracts for wheat and coal as well as sale and purchase contracts for metal oxides and metals with Iranian entities, which are either fully or majority owned by the GOI [government of Iran].”
Glencore declined to state how much of the $659m it dealt with Iran in 2012 was related to alumina/aluminium. The trades were not illegal or against sanctions at the time. It is not the first time Glencore’s activities have attracted controversy. Last year the head of its food trading business said the worst drought to hit the US since the 1930s would be “good for Glencore” because it would lead to opportunities to exploit soaring prices. It has also attracted attention by selling more than £50m worth of wheat to the World Food Programme.
Trafigura, which came to global political attention when it was revealed that a licensed independent contractor of a ship it had chartered dumped tonnes of toxic oil slops in Ivory Coast, said: “We can confirm that Trafigura has traded with Iralco in the past. In October 2011, a physical swap agreement was reached whereby Trafigura provided alumina to Iralco in return for aluminium for Trafigura to export worldwide. No deliveries have been made or exports received since new EU sanctions were published in December 2012. Trafigura Group companies are compliant with national and international law where applicable.”
Environmentalists disappointed by decision to approve plan to extend runway at Lydd, also known as London Ashford airport
Environmental groups including the RSPB and the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) are considering legal action to challenge the government’s decision to allow the expansion of Lydd airport in Kent.
The minor airfield, wedged between Dungeness nuclear power station, Romney Marsh and a nature reserve, has been given permission to extend its runway and handle up to 500,000 passengers a year.
The plan was approved by Eric Pickles, the communities and local government secretary, and Patrick McLoughlin, the transport secretary, following a protracted dispute over an application first submitted in 2006. The growth of London Ashford airport, as it is formally known, is designed to ease air congestion in the south-east and create local jobs.
But the decision is fiercely opposed by environmental activists, who fear it will destroy the tranquillity of the Kent coast and a nearby bird sanctuary. The RSPB and the CPRE are examining the 365-page report to see whether they can seek a judicial review in the high court.
The airfield has been owned by a Saudi businessman, Sheikh Fahad al-Athel, since 2001. As a director of the Al Bilad company, Athel came to attention for his role as a fixer for Saudi Arabia’s multibillion-pound Al Yamamah arms deal.
Lydd opened in 1956 and at the height of its success Silver City airways, Dan-Air and other firms were carrying 250,000 people a year. Business collapsed in the 1970s.
Shepway district council voted in favour of the expansion plan in 2010 but the scheme was called in by central government for assessment because of its national importance. Its approval allows the construction of a runway extension that can take Boeing 737 charter flights, and a new terminal building.
Opponents, who fear passenger numbers will eventually increase to two million a year, have six weeks to appeal against the decision.
The RSPB’s conservation director, Martin Harper, said: “This is the wrong decision as it opens the door to real damage to Dungeness, to its wildlife and the quality of life for many of its residents and risks destroying a unique asset that is enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of people.
“Dungeness is a special place for nature, which is recognised globally for the importance of its wildlife. This decision means nowhere is safe and signals that nature is in trouble in the face of unfettered growth – these are worrying times for all who care for Britain’s wildlife. We will be taking time to review the detail of the decision – and to plan our next steps.”
Neil Sinden, policy and campaigns director at the CPRE, said: “This is a terrible decision which threatens one of the few remaining areas of rural tranquillity in heavily pressured south-east, and in a county once proudly described as the Garden of England. And it will not just alarm environmentalists.
“There were many in the aviation sector who considered this scheme to be nonsensical and a non-starter. If there are any economic benefits, which is unlikely, they will be heavily outweighed by the environmental damage that it will cause on so many levels. Campaigners are bound to consider all legal options to have this disturbing decision overturned.”
Keith Taylor, the Green party MEP for the south-east, said: “The expansion also brings with it a serious nuclear safety issue that the government seems to have ignored. This government decision is bad for wildlife, potentially dangerous for local people and a step in the wrong direction in fighting climate change.”
Hani Mutlaq, Lydd airport’s executive manager, said he was delighted with the go-ahead. “I’m very pleased,” he told the Guardian. “I hope construction will start this year. At the moment we only have scheduled flights to Le Touquet in France but with a longer runway we will have the capacity for 737s that can reach destinations across Europe.”
Richard Griffiths, the planning lawyer who led the team advising the airport’s owner, said: “This is a significant decision from the government given the crossroads which aviation policy currently faces. [It] is perhaps an indication of the government’s support for aviation expansion where the environmental impacts are demonstrated to be acceptable.
“Clearly the government has accepted that there is a need to grow capacity in the country’s airports. However, whilst this is an important decision for both the aviation industry and also for infrastructure investment in Kent, questions should be asked why it has taken over six years to make a decision on these proposals.”
The decision states: “After careful consideration, [the secretaries of state] are satisfied that there would be no likely significant effects on any designated conversation sites and also that the proposals would not have a significant effect on nuclear safety, landscape or tranquillity.”
Environmental activists claimed the proximity of Dungeness nuclear power station posed a severe risk if there was an air accident. In a local referendum, residents rejected the expansion scheme by a ratio of two to one.
Energy Secretary Ed Davey gives the go-ahead for the first of a planned new generation of nuclear power plants in the UK.
Here is the original post: New nuclear power plant approved
Proposed nuclear reactor in Somerset could be delayed by two years if competition directorate launches full-scale investigation
Britain’s planned nuclear reactor programme could be delayed for years, and the nation’s long-term energy policy thrown into turmoil, as European commission officials launch the first stage of a formal investigation into the use of taxpayer subsidies to support the development.
Sources in Brussels have indicated that Britain hopes to win approval for a multibillion-pound deal with French energy giant EDF at the initial stage, which usually takes two months.
But if after a preliminary investigation the EC’s competition directorate decides to launch a full-scale investigation, that would last at least 18 months and probably two years or more. Such an outcome is made more likely by reports that ministers and EDF are discussing a minimum or “strike” price for the nuclear-generated electricity of a little under £100 per megawatt hour – nearly double the current market rate. However ministers will be hoping that their regular meetings with EC officials will make it more likely that a full inquiry will be avoided.
Under the proposals, a nuclear power station – the first for a generation – will be built at Hinkley in Somerset, and the government will guarantee a minimum price for the electricity produced for 30-40 years, a deal which could cost customers a billion pounds a year or more.
News of the latest obstacle to the nuclear building programme comes before the expected announcement next week by the energy secretary, Ed Davey, of whether EDF has won planning permission for the 3.2 gigawatt Hinkley nuclear plant. He is widely expected to give the scheme the go-ahead.
Expectations are rising that Davey could also announce some details of the new contract, including the strike price, in what would be a useful counter to critics that the coalition is not doing enough to stimulate investment to boost the economy and tackle the UK’s threatened energy shortages.
A delay imposed by Brussels would cast new doubt on the £14bn project as it would be likely to make it harder for EDF to raise the capital needed until its contract with the government was fully approved. That in turn would delay the entire nuclear build programme, under which the government wanted 16 gigawatts of new nuclear power operating by the middle of the next decade.
“The government wouldn’t need state aid approval for nuclear if it wasn’t trying to subsidise a risky technology that could wind up costing more than the renewable alternative,” said Doug Parr, policy director for the anti-nuclear campaign group Greenpeace.
Maria Madrid, spokeswoman for Joaquín Almunia of Spain, the European commission vice-president in charge of competition, told the Guardian: “The commission is in contact with the UK authorities on this issue, but has not received a formal notification so far. We are discussing this issue. It’s confidential. We never communicate on preliminary discussions.”
The Conservative MP Tim Yeo says the government is guilty of a “decade of neglect of nuclear policy”.
Read more: AUDIO: ‘Decade of neglect of nuclear policy’