A video released last week of a man convicted of smuggling military equipment to Iran has shed new light on the activities of the Iranian national and six Iranian-Americans who were released by the U.S. as part of a deal to free several of its citizens from Iranian captivity, ABC News reported on Friday.
The undercover video shows Arash Ghahreman and an associate, Ergun Yildiz, discussing the potential sale of sensitive equipment to Iran with two suppliers, who were actually undercover agents from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
Ghahreman was convicted in April 2015 and sentenced to six and a half years in prison for his involvement in the plot. He was one of seven convicted smugglers who were released by U.S. authorities in January for the release Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, former Marine Amir Hekmati, and several others by Iran. The U.S. transferred $400 million in cash to Iran at the time, despite the objections of the Justice Department, which warned that the payment looked like a ransom.
Ghahreman worked as a middleman to smuggle prohibited American-made military technology to Iran through a front company in Dubai. An Iranian company had contacted him in January 2013 and asked Ghahreman to find suppliers of “four Navigat-2100 fiber optic gyrocompasses – used by ‘advanced high speed vessels’ – and dozens of Y-690 electron tubes – used in ‘military airborne radar and transponder applications.'”
In conversations with prospective suppliers, Ghahreman acknowledged that the items would likely be used by the Iranian government for aviation purposes, but acknowledged that other items were “sensitive” and could be used for “electronic warfare.”
In June 2013, Ghahreman and his business partner, Yildiz, met in Las Vegas to discuss the transaction with the two DHS agents who were posing as suppliers. Yildiz told the undercover agents the sale could lead “for far bigger business in future” because “it’s very important to find reliable, trustable partners.”
Ghahreman was convicted of seven counts in April 2015, despite his defense attorney’s claim that his client was “a man in the middle” who had “no allegiance to Iran.” Ghahreman’s own words in the secret recordings “overwhelmingly [established]” that he had been “a knowing and critical member” of “a criminal network that … reached from Iran to Dubai all the way to the United States,” according to prosecutor Shane Harrigan.
Yildiz, who had testified against Ghahreman, was given a 23 month sentence. He was released before the prisoner swap, which saw Ghahreman released along with six others. The U.S. also agreed to stop pursuing charges against another 14 fugitives, including the owner of the front company. Reuters reported in January that the government also agreed to drop a $10 million claim against one of the seven convicted smugglers.
ABC reported that its investigation showed that “when it comes to Iran specifically, at least 130 people and another 33 companies have been charged under the Obama administration for trying to smuggle sensitive materials into the rogue state or conduct illegal business with people in Iran.”
While the U.S. did not release all of those involved in conducting illicit business with Iran, Assistant Attorney General John Carlin asserted at the time of Ghahreman’s conviction that “these violations of the Iran Trade Embargo have the potential to harm U.S. national security objectives, and we will continue to hold accountable those who seek to circumvent its restrictions.” This contradicted President Barack Obama’s declaration at the time of exchange that the release of the convicted smugglers “reflects our willingness to engage with Iran to advance our mutual interests, even as we ensure the national security of the United States.”
In February, a U.S. District Judge objected to the release of one of the seven jailed smugglers, suggesting that the release of Alireza Moazami Goudarzi was not in the public interest.
In June 2015, The Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. expedited the release of four Iranians, including arms smugglers, in 2012 in order to facilitate the nuclear talks with Iran.
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps have arrested at least six dual nationals in the past year, Reuters reported last month, noting that it was “the highest number of Iranians with dual-nationality detained at one time in recent years to have been acknowledged.”
[Photo: ABC News ]