Founder and CEO of Iranian Financial Services Firm Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy to Violate U.S. Sanctions

June 16, 2020

Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers and U.S. Attorney Erica H. MacDonald today announced the guilty plea of Seyed Sajjad Shahidian, 33, for his role in conducting financial transactions in violation of U.S. sanctions against Iran.  Shahidian, who was indicted on Dec.18, 2018, entered his guilty plea today to one count of conspiracy to commit offenses against and to defraud the United States before Judge Patrick J. Schiltz in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Shahidian, a citizen of Iran, was arrested in London, England on Nov. 11, 2018.  On May 15, 2020, Shahidian was extradited to the United States and had his initial appearance in the District of Minnesota on May 18, 2020.

According to the defendant’s guilty plea and documents filed in court, Payment24 was an internet-based financial services company with approximately 40 employees and offices in Tehran, Shiraz, and Isfahan, Iran.  The primary business of Payment24 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 Payment24’s website, 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 the defendant’s guilty plea and documents filed in court, Shahidian, the founder and former Chief Executive Officer of Payment24, co-conspirator Vahid Vali, and other individuals violated the restrictions on trade and exports from the United States to Iran.  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.  The Payment24 website also offered its clients advice on how to create accounts with a foreign identity and how to avoid restrictions on foreign websites, including advising clients to “never attempt to log into those sites with an Iranian IP address.”   

According to the defendant’s guilty plea and documents filed in court, Shahidian admitted to making material misrepresentations and omissions to United States-based businesses regarding the destination of the United States-origin goods. In order to accomplish the transactions, Shahidian obtained payment processing accounts from United States-based companies like PayPal using fraudulent passports and other false residency documentation to falsely represent that his customers resided outside of Iran.  Shahidian admitted to opening hundreds of PayPal accounts on behalf of his Payment24 customers who resided in Iran and to unlawfully bringing millions of U.S. dollars into the economy of Iran.

Pursuant to the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), unauthorized exports of goods, technology or services to Iran, directly or indirectly from the United States or by a United States person are prohibited.

This case is the result of an investigation conducted by the Minneapolis Division of the FBI.  The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Minnesota, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the FBI are particularly grateful for the substantial assistance provided by law enforcement authorities in the United Kingdom, including the National Crime Agency and London Metropolitan Police, in connection with the arrest and extradition in this matter.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Timothy C. Rank and Charles J. Kovats of the District of Minnesota and Trial Attorney David Aaron of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section are prosecuting the case.