Founder and CEO of Iranian Financial Services Firm Sentenced to Prison for Conspiring to Violate U.S. Sanctions
Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers and U.S. Attorney Erica H. MacDonald today announced the sentencing of Seyed Sajjad Shahidian, 33, to 23 months in prison for his role in conducting financial transactions in violation of U.S. sanctions against Iran. Shahidian, who pleaded guilty on June 18, 2018, was sentenced today before Judge Patrick J. Schiltz in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Shahidian, a citizen of Iran, was arrested in London, England on Nov. 11, 2018, and, on May 15, 2020, was extradited to the United States.
“Shahidian lied to U.S. suppliers, illegally transferred funds from Iran, used fraudulent passports and ids, and established a business whose entire purpose was to circumvent U.S. sanctions and to enable others to do the same,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers. “Today’s sentence should discourage other would-be sanctions violators from following in Mr. Shahidian’s footsteps.”
“Mr. Shahidian was the founder and CEO of a financial services firm that employed fraudulent tactics designed to circumvent United States sanctions lawfully imposed on the Government of Iran. Such actions are criminal and threaten our national security interests,” said U.S. Attorney Erica MacDonald. “In Iran, based on his illegal business, Mr. Shahidian had been a high-profile executive and a millionaire. He is now a convicted felon who has lost everything. This prosecution holds Mr. Shahidian accountable for his crimes and sends a broader message to others considering violating sanctions laws that there are serious consequences for doing so.”
“Today’s sentencing sends a clear message that those who try to willfully violate U.S. sanctions against Iran will be held accountable,” said Michael Paul, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Minneapolis field office. “The FBI and our worldwide partners will continue to identify, investigate and pursue those who perpetrate these deceptive criminal schemes with a deliberate disregard for our nation’s safety and security.”
According to the defendant’s guilty plea and documents filed in court, PAYMENT24 was an internet-based financial services company with approximately 40 employees and offices in Tehran, Shiraz, and Isfahan, Iran. 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 computer servers from United States companies. According to PAYMENT24’s website, the company charged a fee to circumvent “American sanctions,” and claimed to have brought in millions of dollars of foreign currency into Iran.
According to the defendant’s guilty plea and documents filed in court, Shahidian, the founder and former Chief Executive Officer of PAYMENT24, co-conspirator Vahid Vali, and other individuals violated the restrictions on trade and exports from the United States to Iran. 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 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.”
According to the defendant’s guilty plea and documents filed in court, Shahidian admitted to making material misrepresentations and omissions to United States-based businesses regarding the destination of the United States-origin goods. In order to accomplish the transactions, Shahidian obtained payment processing accounts from United States-based companies like PayPal using fraudulent passports and other false residency documentation to falsely represent that his customers resided outside of Iran. 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. As noted in recently unsealed court documents in the Northern District of California, Shahidian’s payment services were used to register domains targeted for seizure based on their association with Iranian Cyber Influence Operations.
Pursuant to the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), unauthorized exports of goods, technology or services to Iran, directly or indirectly from the United States or by a United States person are prohibited.
This case was the result of an investigation conducted by the Minneapolis Division of the FBI. The United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Minnesota, the United States Department of Justice National Security Division, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are grateful for the substantial assistance provided by law enforcement authorities in the United Kingdom, including in particular the National Crime Agency and the London Metropolitan Police, in connection with the arrest and extradition in this matter.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Timothy C. Rank and Charles J. Kovats of the District of Minnesota and Trial Attorney David Aaron of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section prosecuted the case.