AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Dutch authorities may take legal action against an exporter for violating EU sanctions on Iran by shipping equipment to the country on behalf of the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the Economics Ministry said on Friday.
The International Atomic Energy Organisation (IAEA) had sent the equipment to a banned recipient, Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, as part of a technical cooperation agreement with the Islamic Republic, a ministry spokesman said.
In Vienna, the IAEA confirmed it had ordered a helium leak detector for a cancer project it was running in Iran, but said the project had been approved by its 35-nation governing board, which includes several European Union states, in 2007.
"The objective of this technical cooperation project is to prepare therapeutic sources, radiocolloid particles and radiopharmaceuticals for cancer treatment," IAEA spokesman Ayhan Evrensel said in a statement, without giving further details.
The issue appeared to highlight an unintended consequence of tightening Western sanctions against Iran over nuclear work the West suspects is aimed at making bombs, a charge Tehran denies.
The Dutch ministry said the halting of equipment was due to the tougher EU rules agreed upon in July even though the detector was an instrument not necessarily for nuclear use.
"In this case the use is not relevant to us. The recipient -- Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran -- is responsible for the disputed nuclear programme in Iran," the spokesman said.
Cranking up pressure on Iran, the United States and the European Union have imposed punitive measures in recent months that go well beyond the latest round of United Nations Security Council sanctions adopted in June.
The EU measures limit the export of goods to Iran which can used be used to develop or produce weapons of mass destruction, such as nuclear, chemical or biological arms, the Dutch Economics Ministry said on its website.
It said the helium detector was illegally transported through the Netherlands, but it did not name the exporter nor the country of origin.
An investigation had been launched to see if there was enough evidence to prosecute the exporter of the detector as well as the exporter of a separate shipment to Iran of pressure metres for its gas and oil industry, the Dutch ministry's spokesman said.
Diplomatic sources in Vienna said the helium leak detector was widely used in industry and was not considered a so-called "dual use" item, which might also have military applications.
Reporting by Gilbert Kreijger, additional reporting by Fredrik Dahl in Vienna; editing by Mark Heinrich and Philippa Fletcher