An Iranian-American group suspected of acting as Tehran’s lobbying shop in Washington, D.C., was ordered to pay nearly $200,000 in "sanctions" April 9 after launching a failed defamation lawsuit against one of its chief critics.
The left-leaning National Iranian American Council (NIAC) was ordered earlier this month to pay $183,480 to the legal defense fund of Hassan Daioleslam, an Iranian-American writer who has accused NIAC of failing to disclose its clandestine lobbying efforts, which are believed to include efforts to roll back sanctions on Tehran.
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NIAC, which describes itself as a nonprofit educational organization, sued Daioleslam in 2008, alleging he defamed the group by claiming NIAC has lobbied U.S. government officials on Tehran’s behalf.
Federal District Court Judge John B. Bates cleared Daioleslam of the defamation charges in September of last year in a decision that criticized NIAC for deliberately withholding and altering critical documents during an exhaustive discovery process.
Bates then ordered NIAC pay a portion of Daioleslam’s legal expenses in an April 9 follow-up order. NIAC is appealing.
Bates wrote that his "judgment is entered in favor of defendant [Daioleslam] and against plaintiffs [NIAC] on the merits and that judgment in the amount of $183,480.09, plus interest," according to the order.
Bates’ decision caps a protracted court battle over NIAC’s true activities, which could have violated U.S. disclosure laws governing lobbying.
"This decision is a victory for the First Amendment and the free discussion of Islamist terrorism," said Sam Nunberg, director of the Legal Project, which coordinated Daioleslam’s pro bono defense along with the law firm Sidley Austin LLP.
"Parsi and NIAC’s predatory suit was a failing attempt to intimidate open discourse on their illicit activities and motives on behalf of the Iranian regime," Nunberg said. "Ironically, Mr. Daioleslam’s original work was not only vindicated through NIAC documents revealed during discovery, but only the tip of the iceberg."
NIAC, which continues to maintain it won the case despite Bates’s decision, has filed an appeal to a D.C. circuit court panel.
The group claims Daioleslam’s "pro-war," "neoconservative" defense team fabricated "false and nonexistent discovery issues to facilitate exorbitant costs for NIAC."
"NIAC strongly disagrees with the decision to share the costs of this process," the group said in a statement posted on its website. "NIAC should not bear any responsibility for Daioleslam’s failure to produce any evidence to back up his egregious claims as well as his grotesquely disproportionate and wasteful discovery tactics."
"NIAC anticipates that a D.C. circuit panel will recognize that Judge Bates's cost-shifting orders contained multiple errors and therefore should be reversed or vacated," the statement said.
However, Bates’ initial opinion outlined NIAC’s repeated attempts to alter internal documents, as well as withhold critical pieces of correspondence that may have exposed their alleged pro-Tehran lobbying efforts.
NIAC withheld more than 4,000 calendar appointments that had been subpoenaed and deleted some 82 references to the word "lobbying."
While NIAC maintains Daioleslam "retreated from his outrageous claims," Daioleslam denied that claim in an interview with the Washington Free Beacon.
"Just to see the statement [NIAC] released shows how they lie easily," Daioleslam said. "They were caught by the judge and have to pay, but they still lie."
Bates’ decision is "a punishment because they lied," he added. "What they said to the court is untrue."
"They are lobbying for the regime" in Iran, Daioleslam said, reiterating his original claim that sparked the lawsuit. "Trita for years has seen he has support in the State Department and many places, and he can get away with whatever he wants."
Nunberg said Parsi and NIAC are upset they could not strong-arm Daioleslam into recanting his statements.
"As a result of Parsi and NIAC’s blatant malfeasance and disregard for the rule of law, now not only have they lost all credibility but are also faced with $183,480.09 problems," Nunberg said. "The scales of justice certainly tipped on the side of freedom and national security in this matter."