GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina likes to portray herself as a hard-liner on Iran. However, during Fiornia’s six-year tenure at Hewlett-Packard between 1999 and 2005, the company sold more than $100 million worth of computers and other high-tech equipment to Iranian customers, despite US export sanctions at the time. It’s a small detail she has neglected to mention while on the campaign trail.

How did HP do it? The usual corporate schemes: the products were channeled through one of HP’s European subsidiaries, and sold through an IT distributor in Dubai, known as Reddington Gulf. The sales continued long after HP sacked Fiorina. By 2007, more than 40% of printers sold in Iran bore the HP trademark.

HP had started skirting Iran sanctions in 1997, two years before Fiorina came on board. By that time, sanctions imposed by the Clinton Administration had been in place for two years. However, there was a loophole in the law that allowed HP to do business in Iran “legally,” albeit indirectly.  Under the rules in place at the time, foreign subsidiaries of American companies were considered outside of US jurisdiction. Nonetheless, the issue came to the attention of the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2009 because of concerns that the equipment might be used for military or terrorism-related purposes. HP’s legal department claimed that, because the subsidiaries were not “United States [corporate] person(s),” they were not subject to US sales restrictions.

Fiorina continued the HP scheme to get computers to Iran after she took over as CEO. Her compliance in violating US sanctions against Iran was highlighted in the Boston Globe in 2008 when Fiorina was attempting to unseat California Senator Barbara Boxer. The issue torpedoed her campaign then – and it could very well sink Fiorina again. Senator Boxer thought so when she told MSNBC: “So she’s got so many problems. I say if the Republicans choose her, we’ll walk into the presidency.”

During the first GOP debate, Fiorina declared that on her first day in office she would call Iranian leader Ali Khameni with the following message: “Until you open every nuclear and every military facility to full, open, anytime/anywhere inspections, we are going to make it as difficult as possible for you to move money around.” As CEO of Hewlett-Packard, however, Fiorina had no problem with Iran moving money into her own company’s coffers.

It reminds us of another American businessman-turned Republican politician who got wealthy doing business with a government hostile toward the US. His name was Prescott Bush – and the country in which he was doing business was Nazi Germany.

Some things never change…

 

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K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues.