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Press Release

Scheme to Transfer Money to Iran Results in Guilty Pleas

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Columbia
Defendants Plead to Conspiring to Violate U.S. Sanctions Against Iran

            WASHINGTON – Muzzamil Zaidi, 40, and Asim Mujtaba Naqvi, 40, both of Houston, Texas, pleaded guilty today for their roles in an illicit scheme to collect tens of thousands of dollars from the United States to Iran, including in the name of Ayatollah Ali Husseini Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and arrange for the money to be exported to Iran without the required licenses from the Offices of Foreign Assets Control.

            The guilty pleas were announced by U.S. Attorney Matthew M. Graves, Assistant Attorney General for National Security Matthew G. Olsen, FBI Special Agent in Charge Douglas A. Williams Jr. of the Houston Field Office, and FBI Assistant Director in Charge David Sundberg of the Washington Field Office.

            Zaidi and Naqvi both pleaded guilty to conspiracy and violations of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) before U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan, who scheduled sentencing for Zaidi on August 13, 2024, and for Naqvi on October 1, 2024.

            According to court documents, in December 2018, Zaidi received permission to collect khums – a religious tax on wealth – on behalf of several Imams. Between December 2018 and December 2019, Zaidi and Naqvi collected payments of this tax, as well as donations purportedly to help victims of the ongoing civil war in Yemen, from individuals in the United States.  

            “The defendants smuggled cash out of the United States for the purpose of illegally delivering it to Iran, a country that sponsors terrorism across the globe,” said U.S. Attorney Matthew M. Graves.  “This Office and our law enforcement partners will find and prosecute those seeking to unlawfully fund this regime.”

            “For over 40 years, Iran has financed terror organizations that export fear, violence, and death across the globe,” said FBI Houston Special Agent in Charge Douglas Williams. “Zaidi and Naqvi financially supported Iran’s dispersion of terror through a system of subterfuge and deception. Thanks to the work of FBI counterterrorism agents, their system has been neutralized and Iran’s rabid campaign of state-sponsored terrorism has been impaired.”

            “The FBI remains steadfast in preventing U.S. currency from reaching the most prolific state sponsor of terrorism in the world,” Assistant Director in Charge Sundberg said. “Today's hearing should be a warning to others that the FBI is committed to finding those who willfully circumvent U.S. sanctions and bring them to justice.”

            Zaidi and Naqvi arranged for the funds to be exported from the United States to Iran and to be received by the Office of the Supreme Leader of Iran.  Zaidi and Naqvi enlisted friends, family members, and other associates to carry the cash out of the United States, in amounts less than $10,000 in order to avoid law enforcement scrutiny.  One transfer of dollars to Iran involved a group of 25 travelers going on a religious pilgrimage in Iraq, and the subsequent transport of U.S. dollars hand-carried by those travelers to Iran.  Both Zaidi and Naqvi were arrested in Houston on August 18, 2020, as a result of this scheme.

            The transfer of money was illegal because the U.S. has imposed economic sanctions on Iran since 1995.  Every year since 1984, the U.S. State Department has named Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism.  And on June 24, 2019, the President imposed additional sanctions on the Supreme Leader of Iran that prohibits the provision of funds to, or for the benefit of, the Supreme Leader of Iran.  

            This case was investigated by the FBI’s Washington Field Office and the FBI Houston Counterterrorism investigative team. The FBI’s offices in Dallas, Chicago, and Detroit all provided valuable assistance.

            The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jolie Zimmerman, Erik Kenerson, and Maeghan Mikorski of the National Security Section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, along with Trial Attorneys Adam Small and Derek Shugert of the Counterintelligence and Export Control Section and Jennifer Levy of the Counterterrorism Section of the National Security Division of the Department of Justice.

Updated May 2, 2024

Export Control
National Security
Press Release Number: 24-377