There are two basic routes to manufacture mustard gas, one of which uses the industrial chemical thiodiglycol. As Iraq scaled up its chemical weapons program it found it easier to buy precursors than to make them. The easiest place to do this was in the Far East where export regulations are particularly slack. Iraq and Iran (as it tried to obtain the ability to retaliate in kind) stripped Japan of its stocks of the mustard gas precursor thiodiglycol by 1986.
Iran then tried to use the large petrochemical company Phillips Petroleum as a source, but was rebuffed when Phillips became uneasy about the deal. The broker for Iran then picked the small New Jersey-based company Alcolac International as a single source. Morton Thiokol subsequently declined to supply thiodiglycol to Iraq and Alcolac then had the opportunity to also supply Baghdad. Alcolac turned out to be a reliable and compliant source for both sides until the operations were broken up by U.S. Customs in mid-1988. Procurement for Teheran was led by an Iranian diplomat, Karim Ali Sobhani, and a Czech-born German (Peter Walaschek). A Dutch national, Frans van Anraat, and a Japanese national, Charles Tanaka, were responsible obtaining thiodiglycol for Iraq.
Export of thiodiglycol from the United States is restricted because of its use in the synthesis of chemical weapons and Tanaka reasoned that having one US company purchase it from another was not going to provoke interest the way a foreign transaction would. Several of the purchases for Iraq started on the road by being sold to US companies that Tanaka had friendly dealings with. The first dealings were with the California company Technalloy Chemical Corp., but transfer of the thiodiglycol across country was time-consuming and expensive. Later shipments used a front company (an empty warehouse in Brooklyn, New York) called Nu Kraft Mercantile that was owned by United Steel and Strip Corp. From Nu Kraft, Iraqi shipments were usually diverted through Europe and Aqaba as the final port before delivery to Baghdad. The Iranians used Singapore and Hong Kong as entrepôts with Pakistan as the last stop before unloading at Bandar Abbas.
During one of the Iranian transfers to Singapore, Alcolac had the misfortune to run into a freight forwarder who refused to alter the accurate declarations made on shipping documents to ones that would cover up the shipment and Alcolac was forced to alter the documents itself. A common practice was to replace the previously stated destination on the shipping declaration with the vague Goods in Transit. If the freight forwarder had reported the incident to the local customs authorities, Alcolac could have been identified as a supplier sooner than it eventually was. This source was exposed when the paper trail started showing errors that brought it to the attention of the U.S. Customs Service. The Customs Service had had its attention to drawn to chemical weapon precursors by the then-recent Iraqi gas attack on the Kurdish town of Halabja. Two such errors included labeling the material by a trade name (Kromfax) rather than by its chemical name as required, and filling out an order for a European supplier (Walascheks West German employer, Colimex GmbH & Co.) with a final destination in Asia (Singapore). Furthermore, the quantities being shipped were enormous. Alcolac sold its thiodiglycol to textile industries and was shipping enough to supply the entire Western European textile industry for years.
When the operations were broken up, van Anraat escaped to Iraq, where he stayed until the US-led invasion of 2003. He joined the string of refugees leaving Iraq through Syria and returned to the Netherlands. he was arrested by the Dutch authorities in December 2004. He will face trial for war crimes for his role in supplying materials used in the chemical weapons attack on Kurdish civilians in Fallujah in March 1998.