RIGA, Aug 21 (Reuters) – Latvian police and customs officers have seized 28 tonnes of military hardware labelled as farm machinery and ready to be smuggled to Iran, the security police said on Thursday.

The $500,000 shipment contained spare parts for tanks, night-vision instruments and armament parts, including anti-aircraft systems, a police official said, adding military experts were still investigating the contents of the shipment.

“After receiving information about the cargo, security police in cooperation with customs seized the cargo bound for Tehran in Iran,” Assistant Security Police Chief Kristine Apse told Reuters. “It was then discovered that the cargo consisted of goods for military purposes,” she said. Iran, branded part of an “axis of evil” by President George W. Bush, is subject to tough U.S. sanctions preventing the export of arms and spares for its forces. Washington also strongly discourages friendly nations from selling arms to Iran. Apse said military experts believe the cargo was equipment earlier used by Russia that was still in working order and sent to Latvia by a Russian company. Russia has been Iran’s biggest arms supplier since the 1979 Islamic revolution toppled the U.S.-backed shah. Apse said the cargo was more likely to be destined for guerrilla organisations rather Iran’s regular military forces.

The United States accuses Tehran of arming and training militant Islamic groups across the Middle East. Iran strongly denies the charges and insists it offers only moral support. Apse said the U.S. embassy in Riga had contacted the security police and offered assistance in the investigation. She said Latvian authorities had not yet contacted their Russian counterparts and that no arrests had yet been made.

“There is also a Latvian company involved,” she said, adding that several offshore companies were part of the illicit weapons transaction, but declined to elaborate further.