US charges Iranian company and executives with sanctions violations

The Wall Street Journal | Mengqi Sun: The U.S. charged an Iranian online financial services company and two of its senior executives with violating U.S. sanctions on Iran, U.S. prosecutors said.

Seyed Sajjad Shahidian, Vahid Vali and the company, Payment24, were criminally charged with conspiracy to commit offenses against the U.S., money laundering, identity theft and wire fraud, according to an indictment unsealed Monday in federal court in Minnesota.

Mr. Shahidian, the company’s 33-year-old founder and chief executive, was arrested and extradited from the United Kingdom and was arraigned Monday, prosecutors said. He pleaded not guilty, according to court documents. A public defender representing him didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Vali, 33, the company’s chief operating officer, is at large, according to prosecutors. Efforts to find verified contact information for Mr. Vali were unsuccessful. The company didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Prosecutors alleged that Payment24, which had about 40 employees with offices in Iran, primarily helped Iranian citizens circumvent U.S. sanctions to conduct transactions with U.S.-based businesses from about 2009 to November 2018, such as purchasing computer

software, software licenses and computer servers. The U.S. has broad sanctions on Iran, prohibiting exports of U.S. goods, technology or services to Iran.

The company allegedly sold a package on its website, which included a PayPal account, a remote IP address from the United Arab Emirates, a Visa gift card and a fraudulent ID card and address receipt, to help Iranian clients make online purchases from U.S.-based businesses, according to the indictment.

A representative for PayPal didn’t immediately provide a comment. Visa didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Prosecutors said Messrs. Shahidian and Vali made misrepresentations to U.S. businesses about the destinations of the goods. Mr. Shahidian also allegedly used false residency information and fake passports to obtain payment processing accounts from U.S. companies, prosecutors said.