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.


Philippine trash trawlers earn little from virus-boosted surge in plastics

Updated 36 min 49 sec ago

Philippine trash trawlers earn little from virus-boosted surge in plastics

MANILA: Virgilio Estuesta has picked through trash in the Philippines’ biggest city for four decades, and is noticing an unusually large amount of plastics during his daily trawl of about 15 km (9.3 miles).
Tough curbs re-imposed to combat a surge in daily coronavirus infections are squeezing income for the 60-year-old, as many of the junkyards and businesses in Manila that buy his recyclables have been closed since March.
Plastic items, such as bottles and containers, dominate the contents of the rickety wooden cart Estuesta pushes through the deserted streets, far more than metals and cardboard, yet the money they bring in is not enough to get by.
“It’s been really hard for us, it’s been difficult looking for recyclables that sell high,” he said.
“Recently we’ve been seeing a lot more plastics, but the problem is they don’t really sell high.”
Environmentalists say the Philippines is battling one of the world’s biggest problems stemming from single-use plastics, and ranks among the biggest contributors to plastic pollution of the oceans. It has no reliable data for its plastics consumption.
Greenpeace campaigner Marian Ledesma said consumers and businesses are now using yet more single-use plastics, in a bid to ward off virus infections.
“The pandemic has really increased plastic pollution,” she added. “Just because there’s a lot more people using disposables now, due to misconceptions and fears around transmitting the virus.”
Since March 16, Manila has experienced lockdowns of varying levels of severity, in some of the world’s longest and tightest measures to curb the spread of the virus.
They are taking a toll on Estuesta, who hopes to start earning soon.
“When you go out, the police will reprimand you,” he said. “I was stuck at home and had to rely on government aid, which was not enough. I had to resort to borrowing money from people.”