The owner of the shuttered Pilatus Bank Ali Sadr Hasheminejad yesterday appeared in the court of the Southern District of New York before Judge Alison Nathan, as lawyers made their opening statements.

Hasheminejad is accused of moving $115 million in US dollar payments from a Venezuelan housing project through the US banking system, and into companies which the United States Attorney General accuses of being of Iranian ownership.

He is charged with six federal crimes, among the breach of US sanctions on Iran, money laundering and bank fraud.

Hasheminejad’s bank in Malta, Pilatus, was put under a joint investigation of the FIAU and the MFSA after the regulator suspended the private bank’s licence when he was arrested at Dulles airport, Washington in February 2018.

The Assistant US Attorney yesterday accused Hasheminejad of using smoke and mirrors to disguise his Iranian identity by purchasing citizenship from St Kitts & Nevis, to avoid US sanctions.

“Because of the serious threats that Iran posed against the US, sanctions were put in place. Virtually all business dealing with Iran is prohibited. The defendant knew about these sanctions. He even lived here in the US for a time.”

The AUSA described how the Hasheminejad family entered a $500 million housing deal in Venezuela, but set up companies in Turkey and Switzerland, used a Dubai address, and opened Swiss bank accounts so that they could hide their Iranian connections and be paid in US dollars.

“For a while it worked. Defendant had letters sent to Venezuela to pay his through the companies he had set up. By 2013-2014, there were problems. The Venezuelans weren’t paying,” the AUSA said, accusing Hasheminejad of masterminding the crime for which he is charged with sex federal crimes, including breaching of sanctions, money laundering and bank fraud.

The AUSA told the court that Hasheminejad’s emails will reveal “his unvarnished words, advising not to say ‘Iran’… You’ll see the real contract, and the doctored contract, that removes the word Iran. You will see the defendant directing his assistant to backdate a document. All the route $115 million from banks right here in Manhattan to an Iranian company.”

To jurors, the AUSA said: “Listen to evidence. Follow Judge Nathan’s instructions on the law. Use your common sense. And you will reach the only conclusion: that the defendant is guilty.”

Defence lawyer Reid Weingarten made his opening statement by introducing Hasheminejad to the jury, whom he said was born in 1980, a year after the Iranian revolution. “His father is a giant of a man, both physically and as businessman… He started the first private bank in Iran. He had 50 family members on his payroll. He was at war with the theocracy. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps wanted his business. They are thugs.”

Weingarten described Hasheminejad as a brilliant student and “pro American… Charles Barkley was his hero, he had a poster. The family decided the women and girls needed to move to the US. Ali [Sadr] stayed in Tehran. He was arrested, thrown down some steps. He came to the US, got accepted to Cornell. He built a shopping centre. He started an investment business. He was applying for asylum in the US. He started a business in Turkey called Stratus. He started an investment company in Switzerland.”

Weingarten said Hasheminejad’s father wanted to help people in Venezuela when six other Iranian companies failed to devise a way of building a housing project for a city destroyed by a flood. “My client is fully engaged elsewhere, he wants to be banker. But his father asks him to help in Venezuela. And my client loves his father, wanted to pay him back. Both wanted to help poor people. Ali was all in. He wanted his father out of Iran.”

Weingarten said the Hasheminejads feared that money from the Venezuela project would be take by the Ayatollahs of Iran.

“As you get into the evidence, you’ll see that the construction company would send a bill to Venezuela. Eventually they would pay, to banks in Portugal and Spain, in Europe. But the Venezuela account, they used a US bank to clear the transactions. They both had clearing accounts with JP Morgan. That’s it. That’s the story. That’s the alleged criminality… But there is no criminal intent. The US can’t prove that. Ali thought it was fine as long as no money went to Iran.”

Source » maltatoday