WASHINGTON, DC — The number of dual American and foreign nationals found skirting United States sanctions law to conduct business in Iran is growing, raising questions regarding how many more such cases exist and how the Trump administration will work toward limiting their access to Iran.
Said individuals and companies often illegally bypass sanctions through wholesale methods or by opening businesses in a different country not listed on the United States Treasury Department’s sanctions list to use for conducting business with Iran.
The Treasury sanctions apply to both U.S. citizens and U.S. residents, all defined as “U.S. persons” under the law.
Several dual U.S. persons found in violation of sanctions have been arrested and tried in recent years.
In February, the United States Department of Justice charged multiple dual U.S. persons and a foreign airline with trying to skirt federal anti-terror restrictions by illegally shipping aircraft parts with dual military and civilian uses to Syria, where Iran has a heavy presence.
Last month, Ali “Alex” Caby, 40; Arash “Axel” Caby, 43; and Marjan Caby, 34, pleaded guilty in Miami federal court to conspiring to defraud the United States and to illegally exporting these dual-use military parts to Syrian Arab Airlines – a government-run airline that the Treasury Department says is “blocked by OFAC for transporting weapons and ammunition to Syria in conjunction with Hizballah, a terrorist organization, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).”
Also last month, Human Rights Watch reported that Iran is recruiting child soldiers from Afghanistan to fight on its behalf in Syria.
The Department of Justice listed Ali Caby as a “U.S. permanent resident currently residing in Bulgaria” and listed Arash Caby, and Marjan Caby as being from Miami, Florida.
In January 2016, the Obama administration agreed to pardon seven Iranians – six of whom are dual U.S.-Iranian citizens – as part of a prisoner swap deal that saw the release of four Americans: reporter Jason Rezaian, Pastor Saeed Abedini, former Marine Amir Hekmati, and businessman Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari.
These seven Iranians were reportedly “convicted in the U.S. or awaiting trial on charges of trying to circumvent sanctions restricting commerce with Iran. In addition, U.S. authorities dismissed charges and removed Interpol alerts against 14 other Iranians whom it believed would never be extradited.”
- Arash Ghahreman: Convicted of setting up a front company to buy military and navigation equipment for Iran.
- Nader Modanlou: Charged with thwarting sanctions and providing satellite access to Tehran.
- Bahram Mechanic: Complicit in conspiracy to illegally ship military materials to Iran, including parts that were fitted on surface-to-air and cruise missiles.
- Khosrow Afghahi: Complicit in conspiracy to illegally ship military materials to Iran, including parts that were fitted on surface-to-air and cruise missiles.
- Touraj Faridi: Complicit in conspiracy to illegally ship military materials to Iran, including parts that were fitted on surface-to-air and cruise missiles.
- Nima Golestaneh: Pleaded guilty to hacking a Vermont-based engineering and software company.
- Ali Sabounchi: Sent materials to Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions.
The men reportedly remained in the United States after they were pardoned.
The release of Pastor Saeed Abedini broke international news as, on the eve of his release, pallets of international cash – which some deemed a ransom – were airlifted to the IRGC before he and the others were freed.
Often, government prosecutors will go after larger corporations or “big fish” rather than individuals because larger fines are associated with this. For example, in 2015, Schlumberger Ltd, a big oil company, paid $233 million in fines for violating Iran sanctions. However, a potentially severely overlooked crime involving individuals could be putting U.S. national security at risk and helping the Iranian government’s military wing, the IRGC, benefit from these illegal transactions.
And it is not just dual U.S.-Iranian nationals who are skirting U.S. sanctions law and working with Iran for their own benefit and, as a result, directly helping the Iranian regime.
The U.S. has been involved in an ongoing probe and lawsuit into Iranian-born Turkish businessman Reza Zarrab, the deputy manager of Halkbank — a Turkish state-owned bank — for “conspiring to use the U.S. financial system to conduct hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of transactions on behalf of the government of Iran and other Iranian entities, which were barred by United States sanctions.”
Zarrab reportedly holds triple Iranian, Azerbaijani, and Turkish citizenship and holds a Macedonian passport.
In an interview with Breitbart News, Peter Harrell, who served as the deputy assistant secretary for Counter Threat Finance and Sanctions in the State Department’s Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs under former President Barack Obama, said that “both at the Treasury Department in OFAC [Office of Foreign Assets Control] and also in the U.S. Attorney office’s Department of Sanctions you do see sanctions enforcement. And, no doubt, when they see press accounts of this type you mentioned, they will look to enforce.”
The Treasury Department recently confirmed to Breitbart News in an email that “Treasury does not have statistics available on exactly how many dual citizens might have violated sanctions.” When asked about the status of any current investigations, it said, “While we don’t comment on current investigations, American citizens who violate Treasury sanction authorities would likely be subject to OFAC enforcement authorities, and possibly other law enforcement authorities, subject to the facts of the case.” The Treasury added that the department “works closely with law enforcement and the State Department on a daily basis.”
U.S. law prohibits Iranian citizens who are permanent residents of the United States, or dual U.S.-Iranian citizens located anywhere in the world, from conducting business with or trade with Iranian companies. The Treasury Department confirmed to Breitbart News that “both an Iranian citizen who is a permanent resident alien of the United States and an individual who is a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen meet the definition of a U.S. person set forth in section 560.314 of the ITSR, regardless of where in the world they are located.”
As such, the Treasury confirmed, “U.S. persons are generally prohibited under the ITSR from engaging in transactions or dealings involving Iran that are not exempt from regulation or authorized by OFAC. However, OFAC has issued a number of general licenses that authorize U.S. persons, including Iranian citizens who are permanent residents of the United States and dual U.S.-Iranian citizens located anywhere in the world, to conduct certain activities with regard to Iran that would otherwise be prohibited under the ITSR, such as the exportation to Iran of agricultural commodities (including food), medicine, and medical supplies and the exportation of hardware, software, and services incident to personal communications. The United States committed in the JCPOA to license certain activities involving U.S. persons, including the sale to Iran of commercial passenger aircraft and related parts and services, provided they are used exclusively for commercial passenger aviation; the importation of Iranian-origin carpets and foodstuffs; and activities involving Iran conducted by foreign subsidiaries of U.S. companies.”