Hewlett-Packard printers, like blue jeans in the old Soviet Russia, are apparently a hot item among consumers in Iran.
According to a report in Monday's Boston Globe, a third-party distributor in Dubai has been selling HP printers in Iran since 1997. That's two years after President Clinton signed an order banning all trade with the country. If HP executives cut the deal with the Dubai company, called Redington Gulf, knowing it intended to sell HP products into Iran, the deal could be a violation of trade law, according to the Globe.
But did HP know what the small Dubai outfit was doing? As the Globe reported, the distributor's Web site says it began in 1997 "as a team of five people and...HP supplies as our first product, we started operations as the distributor for Iran." The article also quotes an HP executive in the late 1990s enthusiastically discussing sales in Iran.
Since it was started, Redington has grown considerably, and now sells high-tech equipment throughout the Middle East and Africa for a number of manufacturers, ranging from other hardware makers such as Cisco and IBM to software makers such as McAfee and Microsoft. "Today," the company's Web site says, "Redington is proud to be described as 'the brand behind brands' in the region."
An HP spokesman told CNET News that HP has "a policy of complete compliance with all US export laws."
The Globe story comes at a particularly sensitive time, with fighting once again escalating between Israel and Hamas forces in Gaza. The trade embargo against Iran was put into place by President Clinton in 1995 to force the country to stop funding militant groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah, and to pressure it to curb its nuclear program.
But scarcity -- or at least the knowledge that owning an HP printer is in some way taboo -- has had the opposite impact: It has made them highly desirable among Iranian consumers. By some accounts, HP has better than a 40-percent share of the Iranian printer market.