Iranian pleads guilty in US tech smuggling case

This undated photo provided by the Sherburne County Sheriff's Office shows Negar Ghodskani. (Sherburne County Sheriff's Office via AP)
Updated 10 August 2019

Iranian pleads guilty in US tech smuggling case

  • US prosecutors say Negar Ghodskani and others established a front company in Malaysia to illegally obtain restricted technology from companies in the US
  • Ghodskani agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the US, which carries a maximum potential sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine

MINNEAPOLIS, US: An Iranian woman pleaded guilty in Minnesota on Friday to conspiring to facilitate the illegal export of communications technology from the US to her home country.
Federal prosecutors say Negar Ghodskani, 40, and others established a front company in Malaysia to illegally obtain restricted technology from companies in Minnesota and Massachusetts, in violation of US law and international sanctions. She was indicted in 2015 in Minnesota and arrested in Australia in 2017, where she became the subject of a long extradition fight. She entered her plea before US District Judge Joan Ericksen in Minneapolis. A sentencing date was not set.
Her attorney, Robert Richman, said she accepted the plea agreement “because she wanted to accept responsibility and be sentenced.”
Richman indicated the toll of the long legal fight was why she decided to stop resisting extradition. She arrived in the US last month.
Under the plea agreement filed Friday, Ghodskani agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the US, which carries a maximum potential sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, and prosecutors agreed to dismiss the other charges. The plea agreement does not include a sentencing recommendation, but the nonbinding federal sentencing guidelines suggest a sentence of 46 to 57 months and a fine up to $200,000.
“We intend to ask the judge to sentence her to time served,” Richman said. “She has already been in custody for over two years. ... By the time she gets sentenced it will be 2½ years in custody. She had a baby while she was in custody. She has gone through a huge amount. We believe the appropriate disposition is to release her and send her on her way back to Iran.”
A co-defendant, Alireza Jalali, pleaded guilty in November 2017. The judge sentenced him in March 2018 to 15 months in prison, court records show.
According to the indictment and the plea agreement, Ghodskani worked for a Tehran, Iran-based company, Fanavar Moj Khava, also known as Fana Moj, which specializes in broadcast and microwave communications equipment, and supplies microwave radio systems and wireless broadband service in Iran. Its principal customer is the government-owned Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting company.
Prosecutors said Ghodskani, Jalali and others established Green Wave Telecommunication in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, as a front for buying restricted equipment and unlawfully reshipping it to Fana Moj in Tehran. The Treasury Department put Fana Moj on a list of banned companies in 2017, accusing it of providing support to the powerful Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
The 2015 indictment did not name the Minnesota or Massachusetts companies involved, but said the circuits that the conspirators bought from them in 2011 included analog-to-digital converters and frequency synthesizers.


Afghan president vows to crush Daesh after deadly Kabul wedding strike

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani attends a state ceremony for the Afghan Independence Day in Kabul on Monday. (Reuters)
Updated 20 August 2019

Afghan president vows to crush Daesh after deadly Kabul wedding strike

  • ‘We have collapsed from the inside,’ says attack survivor

KABUL: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani vowed to wipe out Daesh, after a deadly attack on a wedding party in Kabul killed more than 60 people. The suicide bombing also injured 200 others late on Saturday evening.
Ghani, whose government is facing intense criticism for failing to deter attacks by sympathizers of Daesh and the Taliban, also announced the postponement of 100th anniversary celebrations of the country’s independence from Britain that were due to take place.
“We will eliminate Daesh hideouts all around the country … the fight against Daesh will be intensified,” Ghani said during a brief state ceremony to mark independence, even though formal festivities were put on hold.
The government had allocated millions of dollars and set aside two years for planning the event. “We postponed celebrations to honor the victims, but we will take the revenge of our people,” he added.
Daesh claimed responsibility for Saturday’s attack, which happened while guests and family members of the bride and groom were in segregated halls for men and women.
Most of the victims were Shiite and ethnic Hazaras. Daesh considers them to be heretics and has targeted them in recent years.
“I think many of us are merely alive by appearance and physically. Mentally, we are all dead. We have collapsed from the inside,” Zaman Shah, a 25-year-old survivor who lost three brothers in the attack, told Arab News.
The bomber blew himself up in the men’s hall. The groom was with the bride in the women’s section and survived, but both lost at least 25 family members.
Six children from one family perished. Other families lost loved ones too.
“I lost two of my brothers and four nephews, life has no meaning for me anymore,” Ahmad Fawad told reporters. “Postponing the independence anniversary will not cure our grief, this government is weak and useless and cannot protect people.”
Hasmat Hussien, another survivor, lost eight close members of his family and relatives in the attack. “We do not know why this calamity has befallen us. You cannot understand or comprehend our grief, misery and pain. We have not managed to sleep or eat for nearly two days now,” he said.
Amir Mohammad a 50-year-old man whose son died and had two others wounded in the attack, said: “Life has become meaningless for my family. These people who were targeted were poor, ordinary civilians, not government authorities or generals.”
The suicide bombing took place even as the US and the Taliban near a peace deal that could eventually lead to the complete withdrawal of foreign troops and end decades of conflict.
The Taliban, for its part, has pledged not to allow any group to use Afghanistan for attacks against any country.
“The US is making a peace deal with the Taliban, but we fear Daesh will be the next group that will expand its activities and there will be fighting for an uncertain future,” Kabul shopkeeper Rahim Dad said. “There will be peace with one group, but war with another. That means we won’t have peace, even if America and the Taliban make peace,” he added.
Ghani blamed the Taliban for the attack, saying it had given rise to extremist networks such as Daesh.
The Taliban, whose fighters have battled Daesh in some parts of the country, condemned the attack and showed sympathy with the victims.
US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who has led the US side in peace talks with the Taliban since last year, tweeted Sunday that it was time to step up efforts to end fighting.
But the peace talks have faltered, mostly because the Taliban refuses to engage with Ghani’s government.
“We condemn Daesh (Daesh) and yesterday’s heinous attack on a Kabul wedding hall that killed scores of innocent Afghan families,” Khalilzad tweeted. “We must accelerate the #AfghanPeaceProcess including intra-Afghan negotiations. Success here will put Afghans in a much stronger position to defeat Daesh.”
There was tight security in major cities as thousands of Afghans poured onto the streets to mark the 100th independence anniversary.
But blasts in the eastern city of Jalalabad disrupted the day. Officials said at least 50 people were wounded. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blasts in the city, parts of which have been a Daesh bastion.