CARACAS, Venezuela -- When German customs agents at the Düsseldorf airport found a check for the equivalent of nearly $70 million in Venezuelan currency in the carry-on bag of a former Iranian economy minister last month, it seemed like the elements of an international thriller.
But an Iranian construction company contended on Tuesday that the reality was much more mundane: the money, it said, was meant to pay wages and buy concrete and other materials as part of a project to build 10,000 apartments in Venezuela.
"They're buildings, not bombs, not missiles," said a lawyer for the company, Kayson Venezuela, mocking speculation here that the company's construction projects were a front for more sinister activities.
The lawyer, interviewed at the company's offices in Caracas, refused to give his name, citing company policy.
The unusual courier was Tahmaseb Mazaheri, a former Iranian economy minister and Central Bank governor, according to the lawyer and a second employee, Khosro Mobasser, the company's director of Latin American business development.
They said Mr. Mazaheri was bringing the check to Venezuela as a favor to the company, which is owned by Kayson, a large Iranian construction company.
Venezuela, a major oil supplier to the United States, has developed close ties with Iran, a fellow OPEC member, in defiance of efforts by the United States and its allies to isolate Iran over fears that it is seeking to develop nuclear weapons.
German customs authorities said last Friday in a statement that customs officials had seized the check written in the amount of 300 million Bolívars, the Venezuelan currency. They said the check was found in a carry-on bag of a 59-year-old Iranian man arriving from Iran via Turkey.
Travelers entering Germany are required to declare to the authorities if they are carrying currency in excess of 10,000 euros, whether in cash, checks or other instruments. The statement said the man said he had less than that amount. It said that the check, which was worth almost 54 million euros, was seized and that the authorities initiated misdemeanor proceedings against the man, whom it did not identify.
The episode became big news in Venezuela this week after a Berlin newspaper, Bild am Sonntag, published an article on Sunday identifying Mr. Mazaheri as the courier.
Kayson has been working under contract with the Venezuelan government since 2006, building apartments. It has completed 10,008 and is now building an additional 10,000 units, the lawyer said.
Mr. Mobasser said that payments from the Venezuelan government for the construction projects are deposited in an account at the Bank of Venezuela. He said that the only people authorized to write checks on that account are at the company's offices in Tehran.
The lawyer said that each month, the company sends a budget to the home office, which sends back a check for the required amount. Money is then deposited in another account used to pay construction costs.
The lawyer said the company routinely sent the checks with an employee or other person traveling to Venezuela. He said Mr. Mazaheri did not work for Kayson.
Venezuela keeps its currency artificially overvalued, with an official exchange rate of 4.3 Bolívars to the dollar. The black market exchange rate, which is a better measure of the currency's real value, is at about 19 Bolívars to the dollar, according to Web sites that track the currency.
The lawyer said that Mr. Mazaheri had since returned to Iran and that the company would have to send another check to cover expenses. But he said that there was nothing illegal about how it sent the checks and that it would continue to operate in the same way.
"DHL isn't going to bring it for me," he said. "FedEx isn't going to bring it. How else are you going to do it?"
Chris Cottrell contributed reporting from Berlin, and Nicholas Kulish from Sofia, Bulgaria.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.