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US Charges 3 in Scheme to Move US Currency to Iran

FILE - Various rates and prices for currencies and gold coins are displayed at an exchange bureau in Tehran, Iran, Aug. 21, 2019.

The U.S. Justice Department has charged three people in connection with what prosecutors say was a campaign to move U.S. currency from the United States to Iran on behalf of Iran’s supreme leader.

Muzzamil Zaidi, a U.S. citizen living in Qom, Iran; Asim Naqvi, a U.S. citizen living in Houston; and Pakistani national Ali Chawla, living in Qom, are charged with violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.

Justice Department officials said Wednesday the defendants “have considerable operational links” to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps.

“The lifeblood of these terrorist operation is cash – and the defendants played a key role in facilitating that critical component,” said Michael R. Sherwin, acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia.

The Justice Department alleges Zaidi, Chawla and other members of an organization called Islamic Pulse received permission from Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to collect a religious tax on Khamenei’s behalf and send half the money to Yemen.

Prosecutors say after the United States imposed sanctions on Khamenei in 2019, the group continued to collect U.S. dollars in the United States and send it to Iran, “structured in a such a way as to avoid reporting requirements.”

The Justice Department said Zaidi was also charged with acting in the United States as an agent of the government of Iran without first notifying the attorney general.

Prosecutors say that after arriving in the United States in June 2020, Zaidi “has exhibited behavior that is consistent with having received training from a foreign government or foreign intelligence service.