Patrick Campbell, a West African man arriving from Paris at Terminal 4 of JFK Airport in New York on an Air France flight was arrested by federal agents for allegedly transporting uranium intended for Iran hidden in shoes inside his luggage, as reported on Saturday, August 24, 2013 by The New York Times, New York Post, Bloomberg News, The Telegraph, and other media sources.
The 33-year-old citizen of Freetown, Sierra Leone was nabbed as part of a 15-month Department of Homeland Security sting operation. He apparently answered a notice posted during May 2012 in a Chinese-based web site, Alibaba.com, and promised to deliver uranium 308, also known as "yellowcake" uranium to the port of Bandar Abbas, Iran in quantities yielding 1,000 tons of purified product.
The raw uranium ore which was sewn inside the soles of shoes was intended to be an advance sample delivered to a buyer in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
At his arraignment on Thursday, August 22 at the Eastern District of New York Federal Court in Brooklyn before U.S. Magistrate Judge Vera M. Scanlon, Case 1:13-MJ-733, the government complaint charged that "Campbell stated, in sum and substance, that he had agreed to ship uranium to Iran." In plain language, Mr. Campbell apparently acknowledged taking part in a plot to sell uranium and even helped federal agents to remove the concealed ore from his shoes.
The defendant agreed to be transferred to Florida, the jurisdiction in which his trial will occur.
Uranium 308 can be further processed and refined into both nuclear weapons and nuclear reactor fuel. Yellowcake, also called urania, is an intermediate step in the processing of uranium ores. It appears as brown or black granules containing about 80% uranium oxide.
On June 28, 2004, the Financial Times carried a report from their national security correspondent, Mark Huband, describing that between 1999 and 2001, three unnamed European intelligence services were aware that Niger was possibly engaged in illicit negotiations over the export of its uranium ore with North Korea, Libya, Iraq, Iran, and China.
U.S. President George W. Bush used the threat of yellowcake being shipped to Iraq to make weapons of mass destruction as justification for the Iraq War. He first mentioned it in his January 2003 State of the Union speech. Intelligence by the CIA, French security, and others later discredited this assertion. However, there have been ongoing efforts to restrict the importation of uranium 308, particularly to Iran and North Korea.
Yellowcake is produced in all countries in which uranium is mined. Kazakstan, Canada, and Australia are the top three producers and together account for 63% of world uranium production. Other important uranium producing countries are Namibia, Russia, Niger, Uzbekistan, and the United States. The West African nation of Sierra Leone is among the largest producers of titanium and bauxite, and a major producer of gold, as well as having unknown reserves of uranium. About 70% of its population live in poverty.
If Mr. Campbell is found guilty in this current case, the penalties include up to 20 years in a federal prison and a $1 million fine.
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