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US courts sentences Iranian to 23 months over sanctions evasion

The founder and CEO of an Iranian financial services firm, Seyed Sajjad Shahidian [IranIntl_En/Twitter]
The founder and CEO of an Iranian financial services firm, Seyed Sajjad Shahidian, 16 October 2020 [IranIntl_En/Twitter]

The founder and CEO of an Iranian financial services firm was handed a 23-month jail sentence in the US yesterday for conspiring to evade sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

Seyed Sajjad Shahidian, 33, was convicted of conspiracy to defraud and commit offences against the US for his activities with his company, Payment24.

“Shahidian was the founder and CEO of a financial services firm that employed a variety of fraudulent tactics designed to circumvent United States sanctions lawfully imposed on Iran”, US Attorney Erica MacDonald was quoted by Agence France Presse (AFP) as saying.

“Such actions are criminal and threaten our national security interests”, she added, “Mr Shahidian had been a high-profile executive and a millionaire. He is now a convicted felon who has lost everything.”

Prosecutors said the primary service of Payment24 was a system that allowed Iranian customers to make illegal online purchases of computer software, licences and servers from the US.

In order to circumvent sanctions, Shahidian had used fraudulent passports to set up hundreds of PayPal accounts that purported to be customers outside Iran.

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Clients were given access to one of these accounts, a fraudulent ID card and address receipt, a remote IP address from the United Arab Emirates and a Visa gift card.

Payment24’s customers were also given advice on how to avoid restrictions on foreign websites and warned to “never attempt to log into those sites with an Iranian IP address,” the Justice Department said.

Shahidian, who pleaded guilty to charges dating back to 2009, had also illegally transferred millions of dollars of foreign currency into Iran and lied to his company’s US suppliers in order to evade sanctions, according to the indictment.

The 33-year-old, whose company boasts 40 employees across offices in Tehran, Shiraz and Isfahan, was arrested in London in November 2018 and extradited to the US to face trial in May this year.

The Chief Operating Officer of the company, Vahid Vali, has also been indicted on similar charges but has not yet been apprehended.

Charges of wire fraud, money laundering and identity theft have also been brought against the company directly.

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