U.S. News

U.S. charges consultant to Iran's U.N. mission

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A consultant to Iran’s mission to the United Nations has been criminally charged with violating a U.S. law against dealing with that country, according to an indictment made public on Wednesday.

Ahmad Sheikhzadeh (C), a consultant to the Iranian mission to the United Nation, leaves Brooklyn Federal Court in New York, March 23, 2016. REUTERS/Pearl Gabel

Ahmad Sheikhzadeh, 60, faces seven charges including conspiracy to evade U.S. sanctions against Iran, money laundering, and helping arrange false tax returns, the May 18 indictment said.

Federal prosecutors unveiled the charges a few hours after a hearing in federal court in Brooklyn, New York, where U.S. District Judge Pamela Chen set a $3 million bond for the defendant.

Sheikhzadeh was arrested nearly three weeks ago, court records show, and had pleaded not guilty at a prior hearing.

“We will vigorously fight these charges,” his lawyer Steve Zissou said outside of court. The defendant has lived in the United States since he was 18, Zissou added.

The case came just two months after Iran emerged from years of economic isolation when world powers led by the United States and the European Union lifted crippling sanctions against the country, in return for curbs on Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

According to the indictment, Sheikhzadeh was paid a regular cash salary by the Iran mission, often through a colleague employed there, and deposited it into a Citibank checking account.

But the indictment said he also used that account for side transactions with two U.S.-based co-conspirators who wished to invest in Iran, and at their request directed an Iran-based co-conspirator to funnel money to people in that country.

The defendant “did not obtain any license from the (U.S.) Department of Treasury” authorizing these and other activities, the indictment said.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Chen restricted Sheikhzadeh from going to the Iranian mission and limited his contact with people there, after a prosecutor expressed concern about whether the defendant might seek sanctuary or become a flight risk.

“He does work for a hostile government,” and the mission might be a “potential safe haven for him,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Tali Farhadian told the judge.

Farhadian also said Sheikhzadeh had family in Iran who has “substantial assets.”

Iran and the United States have no diplomatic relations.

The bond will be secured by property belonging to Sheikhzadeh’s brother, who worked at New York University. About $800,000 of Sheikhzadeh’s assets have also been frozen, Farhadian said.

The Iranian mission had no immediate comment. Neither it nor Citibank was named as a defendant in the indictment.

Reporting by Nate Raymond; Additional reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Editing by Sandra Maler, Bernard Orr