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Iranian Extradited From UK Arraigned In Minneapolis For Sanction-Busting

Sajjad Shahidian (L) with his partner Vahid Vali. Undated.

A U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, Minnesota has charged Payment24, an Iranian online financial services company, its founder and Chief Executive Officer Seyed Sajjad Shahidian and Chief Operating Officer, Vahid Vali, with violating U.S. sanctions on Iran.

Shahidian, 33, who was arrested in and extradited from the UK, was arraigned on Monday, May 18, and pleaded not guilty to the charges, including identity theft, money laundering and wire fraud.

Meanwhile, Vahid Vali, 33, remains at large.

Sajjad Shaidian's arrest in Britain at the request of an American court was initially announced in autumn of 2018.

According to the allegations in the indictment, PAYMENT24 was an internet-based financial services company with approximately forty employees and offices in the Iranian cities of Tehran, Shiraz and Isfahan.

"On its website, PAYMENT24 sold a package to assist its Iranian clients with making online purchases from United States-based businesses, which included a PayPal account, a fraudulent “ID card and address receipt,” a remote IP address from the United Arab Emirates, and a Visa gift card", the indictment said.

According to the indictment, the PAYMENT24 website also offered its clients advice on how to create accounts with a foreign identity and how to avoid restrictions on foreign websites, including advising clients to "never attempt to log into those sites with an Iranian IP address."

Furthermore, the company used charged a fee to circumvent "American sanctions," and claimed to have brought in millions of dollars of foreign currency into the Shi'ite clergy-dominated Iran.

PAYMENT24 is also accused of purchasing and exporting software, software licenses, and computer servers from the U.S.

"Shahidian and Vali are said to have made false representations and omissions to U.S. companies about the end-destination of these goods", the indictment maintained.

The ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran to London, Hamid Baeidinejad, said last March that Sajjad Shahidian had accepted the charge of violating U.S. sanctions and would, therefore, be extradited to the United States.