(February 3, 2020 / JNS) The U.S. Department of Justice announced on Friday that it has charged an Iranian national allegedly in connection with a scheme to circumvent U.S. sanctions on Iran.
Bahram Karimi, 53, was charged with conspiring to commit bank fraud, bank fraud and making false statements in connection with his alleged involvement in a joint project initiated by the Iranian and Venezuelan governments in which more than $115 million was illegally funneled through the U.S. financial system to benefit Iranian individuals and entities, according to federal prosecutors.
“Karimi allegedly conspired in an infrastructure project initiated by the Governments of Iran and Venezuela,” said U.S. Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers in a DOJ statement. “He then lied to banks about Iranian involvement and took advantage of the U.S. financial system to benefit Iranian parties.”
U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman for the Southern District of New York said in the statement, “As alleged, Bahram Karimi knowingly and willfully facilitated the circumventing of sanctions against Iran, and then lied about it to FBI agents. Karimi allegedly enabled the concealed transfer through U.S. banks of more than $100 million from a Venezuelan state-owned company to an Iranian construction firm, and when questioned, told the agents he didn’t know that was prohibited by the sanctions.”
In 2005, the Iranian and Venezuelan governments entered into a Memorandum of Understanding regarding an infrastructure project in Venezuela that was to involve the construction of thousands of housing units, overseen by Stratus Group, an Iranian conglomerate with international business operations in the construction, banking and oil industries, according to the indictment.
In December 2006, Stratus Group incorporated a company in Tehran, which was then known as the Iranian International Housing Corporation (IIHC), which was responsible for construction for the project, according to the DOJ.
Thereafter, IIHC entered into a contract with a subsidiary of a Venezuelan state-owned energy company called the VE Company that requested IIHC build approximately 7,000 housing units in Venezuela in exchange for approximately more than $475.73 million, according to the indictment. Stratus Group created the Venezuela Project Executive Committee to oversee the execution of the Project. Karimi was a member of the committee and responsible for managing the project in Venezuela.
In connection with his role on the initiative, Karimi allegedly worked with others to defraud U.S. banks by concealing the role of Iranian parties in U.S. dollar payments sent through the U.S. banking system, according to federal prosecutors.
Specifically, between April 2011 and November 2013, the VE Company made approximately 15 payments to IIHC through two front companies that were created to conceal the Iranian nexus to the payments, in violation of U.S. economic sanctions, according to the indictment. These 15 payments totaled around $115 million.
In January 2020, Karimi was interviewed by, among other people, two FBI agents. During that interview, he falsely stated that, during the course of the project, he believed that international sanctions against Iran did not apply to Iranian companies or persons, according to federal prosecutors.
If convicted, Karimi could face up to 65 years in prison, according to the DOJ.
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