Judge Sentences Sanction-Dodging Iranian Businessman

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• October 16, 2020 1:30 pm

The Department of Justice announced Thursday that an Iranian businessman was sentenced to 23 months in prison for his role in a complex sanctions-dodging scheme.

Iranian national Seyed Sajjad Shahidian pleaded guilty to charges of conducting illegal financial transactions in June 2018. On Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Patrick J. Schiltz sentenced Shahidian in Minneapolis.

Shahidian was the founder of PAYMENT24, a Tehran-based financial services company. The company conducted financial transactions with U.S. businesses—an illegal action in light of the United States' robust sanctions on Iran.

According to PAYMENT24's website, the company charged an additional fee to circumvent American sanctions and claimed to have brought millions of dollars in foreign investment to Iran.

According to the 1977 International Emergency Economic Powers Act, the unauthorized export of goods, technology, or services to Iran is prohibited.

Justice Department officials applauded the arrest.

"Shahidian lied to U.S. suppliers, illegally transferred funds from Iran, used fraudulent passports and IDs, and established a business whose entire purpose was to circumvent U.S. sanctions and to enable others to do the same," Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers said in a statement.  "Today's sentence should discourage other would-be sanctions violators from following in Mr. Shahidian's footsteps."

Though the Trump administration has operated on a tough-on-Iran approach since 2016, pressure on Tehran recently reached a new high. This summer, the administration imposed unilateral "snapback" sanctions, and the Treasury Department issued another set of sanctions on Iran's financial sector.

So far, the sanctions seem to have had some success. Iran's currency has dropped to a historic low, and a regime spokesman told reporters this week that Americans sanctions "have caused serious monetary and financial damages to Iran."

In recent months, the United States has moved to strengthen regional partnerships and normalize relations between Israel and multiple Gulf countries.