Jan 15, 2021

An Iranian financial-services executive has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate U.S. sanctions on Iran, announced the U.S. Department of Justice on Tuesday.

Seyed Sajjad Shahidian, founder and CEO PAYMENT24, entered the plea on Tuesday to one count of conspiracy to commit offenses against and to defraud the United States before U.S. District Court Judge Patrick Schiltz in Minneapolis.

Shahidian, 33, who was extradited from the United Kingdom, appeared last month before Schultz as Shahidian was charged with conspiracy to commit offenses against and defraud the United States, wire fraud, money laundering and identity theft.

PAYMENT24 was an Internet-based financial-services company with approximately 40 employees and offices in Tehran, Shiraz and Isfahan. Its primary business was helping Iranian citizens conduct prohibited financial transactions with businesses based in the United States, including the unlawful purchase and exportation of computer software, software licenses and computer servers from United States companies, according to the indictment.

The company charged a fee to circumvent “American sanctions” and claimed to have brought in millions of dollars of foreign currency into Iran, according to PAYMENT24’s website.

Beginning in or before 2009 through November 2018, Shahidian conspired with Vahid Vali and others to commit offenses against the United States by violating the restrictions on trade and exports from the United States to Iran, according to indictment.

Vali, who was indicted on the same charges as Shahidian, remains at large, according to federal prosecutors.

On its website, PAYMENT24 sold a package to assist its Iranian clients with making online purchases from United States-based businesses, which included a PayPal account, a fraudulent “ID card and address receipt,” a remote IP address from the United Arab Emirates and a Visa gift card, according to indictment.

According to the defendant’s guilty plea and documents filed in court, Shahidian admitted to making material misrepresentations and omissions to U.S.-based businesses regarding the destination of U.S.-origin goods.

In order to accomplish the transactions, Shahidian obtained payment processing accounts from U.S.-based companies like PayPal using fraudulent passports and other false residency documentation to falsely represent that his customers resided outside of Iran, according to U.S. prosecutors. Shahidian admitted to opening hundreds of PayPal accounts on behalf of his Payment24 customers who resided in Iran and to unlawfully bringing millions of dollars into the economy of Iran.

Shahidian is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 15. He faces up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000 and a supervised release term of three years, according to the plea agreement.

Shahidian and federal prosecutors have not reached an agreement regarding a recommended sentence.