A 33-year-old Iranian businessman was sentenced Thursday in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis to 23 months in prison for conducting business transactions in the United States that violated sanctions against Iran.
Seyed Sajjad Shahidian, who pleaded guilty June 18, was sentenced by Judge Patrick J. Schiltz to time served.
Shahidian, of Shiraz, Iran, was arrested Nov. 11, 2018 in London while on his honeymoon. He was extradited to the United States on May 15, 2020.
“Mr. Shahidian was the founder and CEO of a financial services firm that employed fraudulent tactics designed to circumvent United States sanctions lawfully imposed on the government of Iran,” said U.S. Attorney Erica MacDonald in a statement. “Such actions are criminal and threaten our national security interests.”
After President Donald Trump voided a nuclear deal with Iran on May 8, 2018, new sanctions were imposed on Iran in November 2018.
According to a court document filed by prosecutors Timothy Rank and Charles Kovats Jr., beginning in 2009 and continuing until his arrest, Shahidian and others conspired in a scheme that violated trading sanctions imposed by the United States.
“In order to accomplish the criminal objective of this conspiracy, Shahidian, through his company Payment24, obtained payment-processing accounts from companies like PayPal and Payoneer using fraudulent passports and other false residency documentation to represent that his customers resided outside of Iran when they did not.
“He also conspired with others to export U.S.-origin goods to Iran without a license by falsifying the destination of the goods, claiming some of them were being sent to the United Arab Emirates,” the prosecutors wrote.
Shahidian counseled customers that “as long as the American sanctions continue to be in place, it is always advisable to create your accounts with a foreign identity,” according to prosecutors. They said there were millions of dollars in transactions.
Shahidian’s attorney, Manny Atwal, wrote in a court filing that Iranian citizens relied on companies such as Shahidian’s to overcome trade restrictions so they can enjoy goods from overseas.
“Mr. Shahidian like entrepreneurs before and after him, wanted to give himself and Iranian citizens a way around the sanctions,” wrote Atwal. “He knew his actions were illegal but didn’t recognize the consequences … He thought as long as he did not interfere with oil, the military or religion he would not be punished for his actions.”