Among the five Iranian nationals apparently slated for release from US custody as part of a prisoner exchange between the two countries is Kaveh Lotfolah Afrasiabi, who was arrested in Watertown in 2021 on charges that he acted as an unregistered foreign agent.
The Associated Press identified Afrasiabi, 65, as one of the five Iranians being sought for release. Afrasiabi has been free on bail in Massachusetts and his federal trial in New York was scheduled to begin in early 2024, court records indicate.
He had pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy to act as an unregistered foreign agent and acting as a foreign agent without registration, records show.
On Tuesday, federal prosecutors in New York filed a motion to dismiss the case, citing a pardon that President Biden had granted Afrasiabi, apparently under terms of the deal with Iran. The court granted the dismissal.
“Because the full pardon conferred therein is conditioned on a number of terms, the government moves that the charges be dismissed without prejudice,” prosecutors wrote. “The government further joins the defendant’s motion to exonerate bond and understands that the defendant will be released from pretrial supervision upon the termination of this action.”
In a statement, Afrasiabi said he was pleased that his legal ordeal had come to an end.
“I am thrilled this long nightmare (of reason) is finally over, at the same time I resent the fact that this was the fifth time in so many years when I was subjected to a frivolous criminal charge that had zero chance of success in court and I never doubted that I shall prevail as I did in the previous cases, when Harvard Police and their Cambridge proxies repeatedly violated my civil, human, and constitutional rights, only to discover that I am immune to legal defeat, thanks to the wellspring of public support I have always enjoyed, such as the late CBS’ Mike Wallace and historian Howard Zinn, who were the pillars of my support in my ‘David and Goliath’ battles,” Afrasiabi said.
Afrasiabi had filed a federal civil lawsuit against Harvard University and two professors for alleged defamation in 1996, the Harvard Crimson reported at the time. A federal jury in Boston ruled against Afrasiabi in 1999, according to legal filings.
In a follow-up message, Afrasiabi said “Please add that with my 34 books, I consider myself an ornament to this great Commonwealth.”
He has also contributed opinion pieces to the Boston Globe, including one that he coauthored in 2013 heralding a “new opportunity to reset the troubled relations between Iran and the United States.”
When Afrasiabi was arrested in January 2021 on the federal charges dropped this week as part of the Iran deal, US authorities described him as a citizen of Iran and a lawful permanent resident of the United States who frequently publishes books and articles on Iran policy and makes regular television appearances.
But since at least 2007, prosecutors said he had been “secretly employed” by the Iranian government and paid by Iranian officials at the United Nations in New York City to advocate for policies favored by his country of origin.
He had been paid about $265,000 in checks drawn on Iran’s official UN bank accounts and had received health insurance through the country’s UN mission employee health benefit plans since at least 2011, prosecutors said in 2021.
He allegedly failed to disclose his work on behalf of Iran in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, prosecutors said.
Despite never registering as foreign agent, Afrasiabi lobbied a congressman and the State Department to push for policies favorable to Iran, counseled Iranian diplomats about US foreign policy, made television appearances supporting Iran’s perspective on world events, and authored articles and opinion pieces backing the county’s position on various matters of foreign policy, prosecutors alleged.
In one email to Iran’s foreign minister in July 2020, Afrasiabi included links to many of his articles in international newspapers and academic journals, telling the official, “Without support none of this would have been possible! This has been a very productive relationship spanning decades that ought not to be interrupted,” according to prosecutors.
When Afrsiabi was taken into custody, Joseph R. Bonavolonta, special agent in charge of the FBI Boston field office, condemned his alleged crimes.
“Our arrest of Kaveh Afrasiabi makes it clear that the United States is not going to allow undeclared agents of Iran to operate in our country unchecked,” Bonavolonta said. “For more than a decade, Mr. Afrasiabi was allegedly paid, directed, and controlled by the Government of Iran to lobby U.S. government officials, including a Congressman; and to create and disseminate information favorable to the Iranian government.”
On Monday, Afrasiabi’s name surfaced in connection with the swap, in which five American prisoners in Iran were released in a deal that saw nearly $6 billion in Iranian assets unfrozen.
Two US family members also flew out of Tehran, according to a senior Biden administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the exchange was ongoing.
Earlier, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said the exchange would take place Monday after the released Iranian assets reached Qatar.
“Fortunately Iran’s frozen assets in South Korea were released and God willing today the assets will start to be fully controlled by the government and the nation,” Kanaani said.
“On the subject of the prisoner swap, it will happen today and five prisoners, citizens of the Islamic Republic, will be released from the prisons in the US,” he added. “Five imprisoned citizens who were in Iran will be given to the US side.”
Three of the five freed Americans were identified Monday as Siamak Namazi, Emad Sharghi, and Morad Tahbaz.
In addition to Afrasiabi, the other prisoners that Iran was seeking to have freed from US custody were identified Monday as Mehrdad Ansari, sentenced to 63 months in prison in 2021 for obtaining equipment that could be used in missiles, electronic warfare, nuclear weapons, and other military gear; Amin Hasanzadeh, charged in 2019 with stealing engineering plans from his employer to send to Iran; Reza Sarhangpour Kafrani, charged in 2021 with unlawfully exporting laboratory equipment to Iran; and Kambiz Attar Kashani, an Iranian-American sentenced in February to 30 months behind bars for buying “sophisticated, top-tier U.S. electronic equipment and software” through front companies in the United Arab Emirates.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.
Travis Andersen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.