US jury convicts doctor of breaking Iran embargo

Hossein Lahiji and his spouse laundered nearly $2 million through a charity back to Tehran

PORTLAND, Oregon (AP) — A US jury has convicted a couple of defrauding the government in a scheme that prosecutors allege also violated a trade embargo with Iran.

Dr. Hossein Lahiji and his wife, Najmeh, were also convicted of conspiracy to engage in money laundering.

Prosecutors said the couple gave more than $1.8 million to the Oregon branch of an Iranian children’s charity that sent the money on to Iran.

Prosecutors say the transactions violated the US trade embargo against Iran. Their donations were used to make investments in Iran that they retained control over, according to the indictment.

The indictment described an alleged scheme in which the couple got tax exemptions for their donations to the Child Foundation charity. The charity is not named in the indictment, and none of its officers has been indicted.

The head of the charity, Mehrdad Yasrebi, allegedly funneled money that was meant for food and other assistance to his cousin and to a bank controlled by the Iranian government. Yasrebi was identified as a coconspirator in the indictment but was not charged.

Working through Iranian corporations and banks in Switzerland and Dubai, the couple and a cousin of Yasrebi masked their transfers by using food shipments and other commodities to cover financial donations intended for a sister charity in Iran run by the cousin.

The money eventually landed in Bank Melli, an arm of the Iranian government, federal prosecutors alleged.

According to the indictment, Yasrebi and the Child Foundation transferred a total of $5.4 million between April 2001 and April 2005 to Refah Kudak through a bank account in Switzerland. Some of that money came from Lahiji.

The US has had a trade embargo against Iran since 1995.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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