- The Biden administration struck a deal with Iran to release five Iranian nationals and transfer $6 billion in exchange for five American prisoners.
- The five Iranian nationals have been arrested for a number of high-level crimes including espionage, conspiracy, theft and illegally obtaining military equipment and information on Iran’s behalf.
- The deal has been decried as a “random” payment by critics who fear it will embolden Iran to act more aggressively toward the U.S. and take more American hostages with the goal of another payout.
The five Iranian nationals reportedly to be released by the Biden administration as part of an exchange deal have been arrested for a number of high-level crimes benefiting Iran, a country that sponsors international terrorism, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ).
The Biden administration completed a deal with Iran on Monday to release five American prisoners in exchange for the transfer of $6 billion in previously frozen assets and the release of five Iranian nationals, according to The Associated Press. The five Iranian nationals had previously been arrested for a number of crimes including espionage, conspiracy, theft and illegally obtaining military equipment and information on Iran’s behalf.
Mehrdad Ansari, a 40-year old Iranian national and resident of the United Arab Emirates and Germany, was sentenced to 63 months in prison in 2021 for obtaining military equipment that could be used in nuclear weapons, missile development, secure tactical radio communications, offensive electronic warfare and surveillance systems, according to the DOJ. Possession of such equipment is a violation of U.S. sanctions against Iran, and the DOJ found that Ansari lied multiple times to U.S. suppliers in order to obtain them.
Iran prison swap underway. Biden said “it’s the deal we could get.”
The deal – US gets 5 prisoners. Iran gets 5 prisoners AND $6 billion. pic.twitter.com/FYYGF552Ik
— Citizen Free Press (@CitizenFreePres) September 18, 2023
Kaveh Lotfolah Afrasiabi, an Iranian national and political scientist, was charged in 2021 for conspiring to act as an unregistered agent for the Iranian government and working to spread propaganda to “Congress, journalists, and the American public,” on Iran’s behalf, according to the DOJ. After the 2020 death of Qasem Soleimani, the leader of Iran’s elite Quds Force, Afrasiabi emailed Iran’s Foreign Minister and advocated the country adopt nuclear policies that would “strike fear in the heart of [the] enemy.”
“Afrasiabi allegedly sought to influence the American public and American policymakers for the benefit of his employer, the Iranian government, by disguising propaganda as objective policy analysis and expertise,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Seth DuCharme in a statement.
Amin Hasanzadeh, an Iranian national and U.S. resident, was charged by prosecutors in 2021 for the theft of technical data from his unnamed employer that was linked to “the Iranian government’s Cruise Division of Air & Space Organization,” where he had access to a “real-time supercomputer with applications that would include aerospace applications,” according to NPR. Hasanzadeh – who had previously served in the Iranian military – would then send the stolen data back to his brother in Iran, who himself had connections to the country’s military.
Reza Sarhangpour Kafrani, a 46-year-old Iranian national, was indicted by a grand jury in 2021 for illegally exporting laboratory equipment to Iran and money laundering, according to the DOJ. Kafrani was living in Montreal at the time but doing business in the U.S., and worked with a number of U.S. and Canadian companies to ship equipment back to Iran.
Kafrani declared to one of the Canadian companies his intent to ship equipment to Iran, to which the company responded by saying, “You know there are sanctions in place for Iran,” according to the DOJ. Kafrani was unable to complete the purchase and had to look elsewhere for the equipment.
Kambiz Attar Kashani, a dual citizen of the United States and Iran, was sentenced to 30 months in prison for illegally exporting U.S. technology and goods to end users in Iran, according to the DOJ. One of the end users Kashani sent technology to was the Central Bank of Iran, which has supported Lebanese Hizballah and the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which are both designated terrorist organizations.
The Biden administration released the five Iranian nationals and the $6 billion in previously frozen assets on the condition that the funds would only be used for humanitarian needs, but Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said last week that Tehran has the “authority” to use the funds “wherever [they] need it.”
The deal has been decried by critics as a “ransom” payment who said it will likely embolden Iran to act even more aggressively toward the U.S..
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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