Iranian Businessman Convicted of Violating Sanctions

Photo: Ken Lund

Ali Sadr Hashemi Nejad (Sadr), an Iranian businessman, was found guilty Monday on charges that he orchestrated a scheme to funnel more than USD 115 million in payments to his family’s business through the U.S. financial system, in violation of U.S. sanctions on Iran.

Sadr and a co-conspirator used passports from St. Kitts and Nevis and an address in the United Arab Emirates to establish front companies in Switzerland and Turkey to receive the U.S.-dollar payments, according to prosecutors. 

The payments concerned an infrastructure project relating to the construction of thousands of housing units in Venezuela, prosecutors said. The project was led by Stratus Group, an Iranian conglomerate founded by Sadr’s father in the 1970s with international business operations in the construction, banking and oil sectors. Stratus Group established a company in 2006, the Iranian International Housing Company (IIHC), that was responsible for the Venezuela project.

IIHC entered into a contract worth about USD 475 million with a subsidiary of Venezuela’s state-owned Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. (PdVSA) to build approximately 7,000 housing units, according to prosecutors. Sadr, who managed the project’s finances, took steps to evade sanctions and defraud banks by concealing the role of Iranian parties in the payments sent through the U.S. financial system, prosecutors said. He was convicted on five of the six counts he faced.

“Sadr’s conviction shows that U.S. economic sanctions against Iran are for real, and violators will be exposed and prosecuted, ” said U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman. 

The judge sent Sadr to house arrest pending sentencing, according to a media report. Sadr had testified in his own defense, saying that he didn’t believe his role in the Venezuelan construction project violated sanctions and that the funds didn’t go to Iran, according to media reports. Another Iranian man, Bahram Karimi, was charged in the case in late January.

Sadr’s conviction comes amid a frenzied period for the U.S. federal courts, and the U.S. more broadly, during the coronavirus outbreak. It came hours after the judge presiding over the case allowed a juror to participate in deliberations via videoconference, despite objections from prosecutors, according to media reports. Earlier this month, the trial was briefly interrupted when it was revealed that a member of the jury pool had potentially been exposed to the virus.

The trial also received significant attention in Malta, where Sadr had owned the now-defunct Pilatus Bank. David Casa, a member of the European Parliament from Malta, tweeted Monday that the conviction was “confirmation that the Maltese government truly befriended a world class criminal.”

 

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