Note to readers: This piece was updated on Monday, March 7 with a statement from Kaveh Afrasiabi.
The Biden administration has for the third time delayed the trial of an accused Iranian spy, renewing concerns that the high-profile case is being used as a bargaining chip in nuclear negotiations with Tehran.
The Justice Department confirmed to the Washington Free Beacon on Tuesday that the trial for Kaveh Lotfollah Afrasiabi would again be delayed. The Iranian citizen and U.S. permanent resident was charged last year with acting as an unregistered foreign agent for the Iranian regime. The trial, which was scheduled to move ahead in January, was postponed twice last year at Afrasiabi's request, sparking Republican concerns that the Biden administration was allowing delays to appease Iran while it negotiated a new nuclear deal.
"The defendant complained of medical issues that he claims make it difficult for him to assist in the preparation of his defense, so he has asked for more time and we have not objected," a Justice Department spokesman told the Free Beacon. "This was the motion publicly filed by his standby counsel." No date has been set yet for the trial to commence, according to the spokesman. Afrasiabi's counsel requested that the case be rescheduled for April 20, according to a court filing.
Afrasiabi's case has emerged as a flashpoint between the Biden administration and congressional Republicans, who suspect the case is being used as leverage in ongoing talks with the Iranian government about inking a revamped version of the 2015 nuclear accord. In October 2021, after the case was delayed for a second time, a group of House Republicans wrote to the Biden administration to express their concern "that Afrasiabi is being used by the Iranian regime as a political tool for backdoor negotiations" with Iran, as the Free Beacon reported at the time. The third delay has renewed these concerns.
Iranian Americans for Liberty, a grassroots advocacy group that opposes the hardline regime and works with Congress on the issue, accused Biden's Justice Department of "postponing a clearly winnable case against a well-known operative of the Islamic Republic of Iran."
"All Americans should be deeply concerned about these recent developments," the group said in a statement provided to the Free Beacon. "We hope Secretary [of State Antony] Blinken and Special [Iran] Envoy [Robert] Malley are not interfering with the Justice Department on Afrasiabi's behalf." The group is asking that the trial begin within the next 30 days.
Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R., N.J.), who has been spearheading congressional efforts to pressure the Department of Justice into moving forward with Afrasiabi's case, told the Free Beacon that the Biden administration is bending over backward to accommodate the accused Iranian spy.
"The Department of Justice must stop succumbing to the whims of Afrasiabi, who meddled with the United States as an unregistered foreign agent," Van Drew said. "Like I have stated before, we must send a strong message to Iran and our adversaries that our democracy cannot and will not be undermined—action needs to be taken and justice must be served."
Afrasiabi was charged in January 2021 with disseminating Iranian regime propaganda while posing as a neutral academic. While working as a contributor to left-leaning foreign policy publications and newspapers, Afrasiabi allegedly was "acting and conspiring to act as an unregistered agent of the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran," according to the indictment. His writing appeared in publications including the New York Times, Boston Globe, Washington Post, and the Nation magazine, as well as many academic journals.
The indictment was seen as proof that Iran peddles influence in Washington, D.C., even without formal ties with the United States. Afrasiabi allegedly promoted himself as an academic while being "secretly employed by the Iranian government and paid by Iranian diplomats" stationed at the United Nations. He has been paid approximately $265,000 from Iranian officials since 2007 and also receives health insurance through Iran's U.N. mission.
UPDATE March 7, 9:00 a.m.: After publication of this article, Afraisibi contacted the Free Beacon to demand a retraction and allege that our description of him as an "alleged spy" is defamatory. In a lengthy statement Afairisibi said, "I am simply accused by the U.S. government of failing to register as a foreign agent for my part-time consulting role with Iran’s mission to the United Nations." The Free Beacon stands by its reporting.