Iranian Millionaire Jailed for Violating US Sanctions

The United States has imprisoned the CEO of a financial services company that helped Iranian nationals conduct financial transactions in violation of US sanctions. 

Iranian millionaire Seyed Sajjad Shahidian, 33, pleaded guilty in June to one count of conspiracy to defraud and commit offenses against the United States. On Thursday, a district court in Minneapolis sentenced Shahidian to 23 months in prison. 

Shahidian founded and ran Payment24.ir, an online platform that helped Iranian nationals circumvent US sanctions prohibiting financial transactions with businesses based in the United States. Users of the platform paid a fee to get around American sanctions so they could purchase computer software, software licenses, and computer servers from US companies. 

Payment24 had offices in Tehran, Shiraz, and Isfahan, Iran, and employed approximately 40 people. To Iranian clients seeking to make online purchases from United States-based businesses, the company sold a package that 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. 

Clients were advised by Payment24 on how to create accounts with a foreign identity and were instructed "never attempt logging into a foreign website with an Iranian IP address."

To achieve the transactions, Shahidian obtained payment-processing accounts from United States-based companies like PayPal using fraudulent passports and other fake residency documentation to make it appear as though his clients resided outside of Iran. Shahidian admitted to opening hundreds of PayPal accounts on behalf of his resident Iranian customers and to unlawfully bringing millions of US dollars into the economy of Iran. 

Shahidian was arrested in London, UK, in November 2018 after being observed visiting a number of tourist spots, including the London Eye and Madame Tussauds. He was extradited to the US in May 2020.  

The UK's National Crime Agency cybercrime investigators stated that they believe Payment24 had previously been used "by international cyber-criminals seeking to target the UK."

“In Iran, based on his illegal business, Mr. Shahidian had been a high-profile executive and a millionaire," said US Attorney Erica MacDonald. "He is now a convicted felon who has lost everything."

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