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Mahmoud Reza Banki Convicted Of Violating Iran Trade Embargo

LARRY NEUMEISTER   06/ 4/10 06:45 PM ET   AP

Trade

NEW YORK — An Ivy League-educated man whose family sent him millions of dollars from Iran was convicted Friday of violating the Iran trade embargo and operating an unlicensed money transmitting business.

Mahmoud Reza Banki, 33, dropped his head onto the defense table as his girlfriend sobbed loudly from the courtroom spectator section behind him after the jury returned its verdict after only four hours of deliberations in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.

The verdict capped a four-week trial in which prosecutors alleged Banki was a key component of an informal money transfer business in South Asia known as a hawala.

The jury must return on Monday to decide whether to grant the government's request that Banki be forced to forfeit $3.4 million. No sentencing date was immediately set.

Banki, born in Tehran, faces up to 25 years in prison. He has been a U.S. citizen since 1996.

His lawyers had argued he had the "state of mind of an innocent man" as he patiently submitted to repeated interviews by federal officials investigating his money transfers over an eight-year period. They had called the case against him a "misguided prosecution fraught with grievous error."

They didn't immediately comment after the verdict.

Banki, who attended Purdue University and the University of California at Berkeley before getting a doctorate in chemical engineering from Princeton University, has been held without bail since his January arrest on charges that he conspired to violate the Iran trade embargo and operate an unlicensed money transmitting business. He also was convicted of charges that he made false statements.

The trade embargo, initiated in 1995, prohibits U.S. citizens from supplying goods, services or technology to Iran or its government.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Anirudh Bansal told the jury during closing arguments Thursday that Banki was too intelligent not to know that money would be paid to others in Iran as a result of the money that was put into his U.S. bank account.

Earlier in the trial, Bansal said Banki had enabled dozens of companies and people in countries including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Russia and the Philippines to move more than $3 million into Iran.

The government said Banki, who had worked for McKinsey & Co., a management consulting firm, bought a $2.4 million Manhattan condominium and made payments on his credit card accounts with much of the $3.4 million deposited into his bank account.

Hawalas, which often are cheaper and quicker than banks, rely on wire transfers, couriers and overnight mail. Authorities have tried to curb the use of hawalas since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, fearing they let terrorists raise and launder money.

Banki's defense lawyers argued that Banki only knew he was receiving money from relatives in Iran who wanted to protect the family's fortune from his father, who had divorced his mother after having an affair with another woman.

The family owns three power companies and a pharmaceutical company, Banki's mother testified.

As Banki was led from the courtroom, his mother attempted to reach out to him, but U.S. marshals blocked her from touching him.

(This version CORRECTS 4-week trial, not 4-month trial.)

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Filed by Emily Tess Katz  |