Iranian national charged in $115 million sanctions busting scheme

Bahram Karimi, who lives in Canada, faces three counts tied to conspiracy to commit bank fraud, bank fraud, and lying to federal investigators.

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By Tom Winter

An Iranian national living in Canada has been charged with funneling $115 million through the U.S. financial system in a scheme that benefited several Iranian individuals and companies—and violated U.S. sanctions, according to an indictment unsealed Friday.

Bahram Karimi, 53, faces three counts tied to conspiracy to commit bank fraud, bank fraud, and lying to federal investigators, federal prosecutors in New York said.

According to the charging documents, Karimi was involved in an infrastructure project, organized and funded by the governments of Iran and Venezuela, that centered on the creation of a 7,000-unit housing development in Venezuela.

Karimi is accused of helping to facilitate payments from a Venezuela company to subsidiaries of two Iranian companies through Swiss bank accounts, which use New York banks in part to route the funds, the indictment says. The routing of that money, prosecutors allege, allowed Karimi to mask the illegal payments to Iranian entities.

All told, 15 payments totaling approximately $115 million were made between April 2011 and November of 2013 in violation of U.S. sanctions, the indictment says.

When Karimi was interviewed by FBI agents and others earlier this month, the indictment says, he falsely stated that he believed that international sanctions against Iran did not apply to Iranian companies or persons.

No information on Karimi's attorney was readily available.

"As alleged, Bahram Karimi knowingly and willfully facilitated the circumventing of sanctions against Iran, and then lied about it to FBI agents," U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a statement.

FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney Jr. said the case underscores why the government has robust sanctions in place against Iranians who try to use the American banking system. “At the end of the day, these charges reflect the use of our financial system to generate U.S. dollars for Iranians and Iranian entities," Sweeney said.