The U.S. plans to free seven Iranian citizens who were either serving time or awaiting trial for alleged sanctions violations in exchange for four Americans who were being held in Iran.
A senior administration official said that pending the release of the American prisoners, the charges would be dropped against four Iranians awaiting trial, and three other jailed Iranians would be pardoned or have their sentences commuted.
Iran's official state news agency, IRNA, named the Iranians set for release as Nader Modanlou, Bahram Mechanic, Khosrow Afghahi, Arash Ghahraman, Tooraj Faridi, Nima Golestaneh and Ali Saboonchi. Mechanic's lawyer told Reuters that Mechanic, Faridi and Afghahi had been pardoned, but Mechanic and Faridi had not yet been freed from custody as their release was contingent on the four American prisoners leaving Iran. The U.S. government has yet to confirm the identities of the Iranians to be freed.
Unlike the American prisoners in Iran, the Iranians set for release in the U.S. were charged publicly, and had received or were awaiting an open trial. Six of the seven have dual Iranian-American citizenship. All seven have the option of staying in the U.S. rather than returning to Iran.
The people included in the deal were narrowed down from Tehran's original ask list of more than a dozen jailed Iranians, including some with charges not related to U.S. sanctions, over months of top-secret negotiations on the sidelines of the 2015 nuclear deal.
The U.S. State Department also dropped an international request to detain 14 Iranians on trade violations on Saturday, saying the extradition requests were unlikely to be successful.
Here are the Iranian prisoners' stories:
Nader Modanlou was sentenced to eight years in prison in 2013 for conspiring to illegally provide satellite services to Iran, which helped the country launch its first-ever satellite into space. The U.S. said Modanlou brokered a deal between Iran and a Russian government-owned company, resulting in the 2005 satellite launch. Modanlo pleaded not guilty, and his appeal is still pending. The mechanical engineer, who is in his mid-50s, was born in Iran. The Associated Press reports that he told outlets in the 1990s that he came to the U.S. in 1979, the year of the Islamic Revolution, before studying at George Washington University. He lived in Maryland and worked on projects for NASA and the Department of Defense prior to his arrest, according to the AP.
Bahram Mechanic was arrested last April on federal charges for allegedly sending electronic parts from his Houston-based company, Smart Power Systems, to another company he owned in Iran. The billionaire is around 70 years old. His nephew Tooraj Faridi and associate Khosrow Afghahi were also arrested and charged with helping provide equipment for Iran's nuclear agencies, according to the Houston Chronicle. All men pleaded not guilty. Mechanic had previously served probation for a 1980s criminal export conviction, and in the 1990s he settled a civil export violations issue with the U.S. government. All three men were awaiting trial -- Faridi was out on bail, while Mechanic and Afghahi were being held in Texas.
Nima Golestaneh, a 30-year-old student from Iran, was accused of hacking into a Vermont aerodynamics company's computer system to steal software. He was arrested in Turkey in 2013 and extradited to the U.S. last February to face charges. Last December, Golestaneh pleaded guilty to the cyberattack and was awaiting sentencing. He was the only Iranian released Saturday who did not also have U.S. citizenship.
Arash Ghahreman, in his mid-40s, was serving a 6 and 1/2 year sentence prior to Saturday morning's release. After winning a visa lottery for the U.S. in 2006 and moving to Staten Island, Ghahreman attempted to send military electronic equipment from the U.S. to a front company in Dubai. U.S. prosecutors argued that Ghahreman knew the equipment would eventually be shipped to Iran. He was arrested after a sting operation by Homeland Security agents.
Ali Saboonchi, in his mid-30s and living in Maryland, was convicted in 2014 of exporting industrial parts to customers in Iran via the United Arab Emirates and China. He was at the tail end of a two-year prison sentence.
Jessica Schulberg contributed reporting.
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