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Iranian Extradited From UK Pleads Guilty To Violating US Sanctions

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

The founder and CEO of an Iranian financial services firm has pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate U.S. sanctions against Iran one month after being arraigned in Minneapolis, federal prosecutors said Tuesday.

The U.S. Attorney’s office said that Seyed Sajjad Shahidian, 33, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis to one count of conspiracy to commit offenses against and to defraud the United States, in what was essentially a sanctions-busting scheme.

Shahidian, a citizen of Iran, was arrested in London on Nov. 11, 2018 at the request of U.S. authroities. He was extradited to the U.S. last month.

According to court documents, Shahidian was founder and former CEO of Payment24, an internet-based financial services company with about 40 employees and offices in Tehran, Shiraz and Isfahan, Iran.

Prosecutors alleged that the primary business of Payment24 was helping Iranian citizens conduct prohibited financial transactions with businesses based in the United States, including the unlawful purchase and exportation of computer software, software licenses and servers from U.S. companies.

The Chief Operating Office of Payment24, Vahid Vali, has also been indicted by he has evaded arrest.

Shahidian admitted to opening hundreds of PayPal accounts on behalf of his Payment24 customers who resided in Iran and to unlawfully bringing millions of U.S. dollars into the economy of Iran.

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

"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.

Sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 15.

Reporting by AP