U.S. prosecutors charged a man from Sierra Leone with trying to sell undercover agents 1,000 tons of yellowcake uranium he thought would be shipped to Iran, after he was arrested in New York with a sample of the toxic material hidden in his shoes.
Patrick Campbell, 33, who was arrested Wednesday as he arrived at the John F Kennedy airport from Paris, is accused of trying to act as an intermediary to sell Iran 1,000 tons of purified uranium, in violation of US law.
He allegedly made the offer to US undercover agents, thinking they were representing the Iranians.
Samples of raw uranium ore were found beneath the inner soles of his shoes, an agent said in a US court complaint.
The Sierra Leone-based Campbell had been under surveillance since May 2012, when he responded to an ad on the site Alibaba.com by someone looking to buy uranium 308, or yellow cake.
The buyer was actually an undercover US immigration officer.
Asked to supply 1,000 tons of uranium — disguised with other types of ore to escape detection — Campbell promised to ship the product, disguised as chromite, from Sierra Leone to the port of Bandar Abbas in Iran.
In the course of numerous conversations over telephone, Skype and email, Campbell claimed to be linked to a company that sold uranium, gold, diamonds, and chromite at the border of Liberia and Sierra Leone, according to the indictment.
In order to be used as a nuclear fuel, purified uranium must be enriched.
Campbell was arrested in New York on his way to Florida, where he planned to show his "contact" some uranium samples.
The samples, wrapped in plastic bags, had been hidden in the soles of a pair of shoes in his luggage, the indictment said.
Investigators also found contact information for the sale and delivery of the uranium on a USB key.
If convicted, Campbell faces up to 20 years in prison and a $1m fine.
The complaint against him was filed in Florida, his ultimate destination at the time of his arrest.