Federal authorities this week arrested and charged a University of Miami professor who allegedly procured medical research equipment with laundered money and smuggled it into Iran.
Dr. Mohammad Faghihi, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Miami in Florida, was charged Tuesday in a Miami federal court with conspiracy to commit money laundering, unlawful export to Iran, and making false statements. Exporting scientific research devices to Iran without permission of the Treasury Department violates U.S. sanctions on Iran.
Faghihi was born and educated in Iran. He entered the United States lawfully in 2005 and was affiliated with the university from 2013 to 2020. The university did not respond to the Washington Free Beacon’s request for comment by press time.
According to a criminal complaint unsealed Tuesday, a small business Faghihi operated with his wife and sister obtained hundreds of thousands of dollars in wire service payments from companies in China, Malaysia, Singapore, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates between 2016 and 2020. Those payments allegedly financed the purchase of genetic sequencing equipment from companies in the United States.
Export of such equipment to Iran without a license is illegal. Faghihi’s exports were not authorized, and authorities allege he took pains to conceal them.
Prosecutors said the wire transfers had no clear purpose, and many came around the time Faghihi procured the equipment.
"Those third-country international wires [are] indicative of money laundering designed to conceal that payment originated in Iran," federal authorities wrote in the complaint.
WhatsApp messages recovered by investigators show Faghihi communicating with multiple parties throughout 2017 about the sequencing devices. In one May 2017 message, he told an unnamed professor with an Iranian phone number that he had procured two sequencing devices in the United States and installed them at a lab at Shiraz University, a major research institution in southwest Iran.
IP addresses for the machines confirmed they were in Shiraz from 2017 until at least June 2021.
Apart from the alleged sanctions violations, Faghihi was charged with fraudulently obtaining research grants from the National Institutes of Health. As a recipient of NIH grants, Faghihi was required to disclose the wire service payments he received, but he failed to do so.
Travel records indicate that Faghihi visited Iran on a regular basis, sometimes staying as long as four months. Such extended travel outside the United States required agency approval, which he did not seek.
The University of Miami Health System maintained a page about Faghihi’s research, where he was identified as an assistant professor in the university’s Miller School of Medicine. His research interests included "neurological disorders such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, Multiple sclerosis and Fragile X syndrome," according to the portal. The page has since been removed from the university’s website, but the Free Beacon was able to review it via an Internet archive.
The extent of Faghihi’s connection to the Iranian regime is unclear. Shiraz University is government-run, but its research and academic programs have many civilian applications. One WhatsApp message revealed one of Faghihi’s associates was a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization. But the message is five years old and is the only reference to the Revolutionary Guard that appears in Tuesday’s complaint.
Faghihi is also charged with making several false statements to federal authorities. Faghihi’s wife and sister also faced federal criminal charges related to the professor’s activities.
The case is U.S. v. Faghihi in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.
Published under: Iran