Based on the Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Act, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) issued an administrative punishment dated July 25 against metalworking machine manufacturer Yasui & Co. (Setagaya Ward, Tokyo), prohibiting it from all product exports for three months, sources have revealed. The administrative punishment was issued on suspicions that Yasui & Co. has engaged in unlicensed export to Iran and other nations of “vacuum induction furnaces,” which can be converted to produce nuclear weapons. Yasui & Co. has apparently been exporting these furnaces to the Middle East and the West without a license for about nine years.
According to METI, Yasui & Co. exported a total of about 620 vacuum induction furnaces to Iran, China, and Thailand among other countries from 2007 to 2016 without acquiring a license from the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry. The exports were declared as “vacuum pressure casting machines” to customs.
Vacuum induction furnaces can melt metals and are used to manufacture and process jewelry. They can also dissolve uranium and plutonium. Because they could be converted for use in the production of nuclear bombs, they are on the list of products that require an export license.
The United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions on Iran in 2010 because it was thought that Iran was continuing its nuclear weapons program, including producing enriched uranium. The exports were sent to jewelry companies [in Iran], but the final use of the furnaces is unknown.
Founded in 1952, Yasui & Co. manufactures, sells, and exports machines used to process jewelry, including gold and silver. According to a credit bureau, Yasui & Co. made 2.7 billion yen in sales in the year ended December 31, 2015. In September last year, the Public Security Bureau of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department investigated the company on suspicion of violating the Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Act by exporting vacuum induction furnaces without a license. In February this year, criminal papers were filed with prosecutors against the company president and others on suspicions of exporting and selling four vacuum induction furnaces for 17.57 million yen to precision machinery manufacturers in Iran. The case was dropped (suspension of indictment), however.
In May this year, Yasui & Co. said in response to a Yomiuri Shimbun investigation: “We were not sufficiently aware of which machines require a license for export. We are reflecting carefully on the matter.”