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Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Merrick B. Garland, the Attorney General of the United States, Lisa O. Monaco, the Deputy Attorney General of the United States, Christopher A. Wray, the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), Matthew G. Olsen, the Assistant Attorney General for National Security, and Michael J. Driscoll, Assistant Director in Charge of the New York Field Office of the FBI, announced the unsealing of murder-for-hire and money-laundering charges against RAFAT AMIROV, a/k/a “Farkhaddin Mirzoev,” a/k/a “Pᴎᴍ,” a/k/a “Rome,” POLAD OMAROV, a/k/a “Araz Aliyev,” a/k/a “Polad Qaqa,” a/k/a “Haci Qaqa,” and KHALID MEHDIYEV, and firearms offenses against MEHDIYEV. The charges are contained in a Superseding Indictment unsealed today in Manhattan federal court. The case is pending before U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon. AMIROV was taken into custody in the Southern District of New York on January 26, 2023, and will be arraigned on the charges in the Superseding Indictment by Magistrate Judge Sarah L. Cave today. MEHDIYEV was arrested on July 29, 2022, on charges contained in an underlying criminal complaint and will be arraigned on the charges in the Superseding Indictment before Judge McMahon on January 31, 2023, at 4:00 p.m. OMAROV was arrested in the Czech Republic on January 4, 2023, and the United States will request his extradition on the charges in the Superseding Indictment.
U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said: “As alleged, the defendants are members of an organized crime group hired to assassinate, right here in New York City, a U.S. citizen of Iranian origin who has been critical of the regime’s autocracy and its disregard for human rights. This is the second time in the past two years that this Office and our partners at the FBI have disrupted plots originating from within Iran to kidnap or kill this victim for the ‘crime’ of exercising the right to free speech, to independent political thought, and to advocating for the rights of the oppressed and disenfranchised inside Iran. Thanks to the extraordinary efforts of the career prosecutors and FBI agents who led the investigation, this new plot to silence the victim has been disrupted and the defendants will face justice in an American court.”
Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said: “The Victim in this case was targeted for exercising the rights to which every American citizen is entitled. The Victim publicized the Iranian Government's human rights abuses; discriminatory treatment of women; suppression of democratic participation and expression; and use of arbitrary imprisonment, torture, and execution. The Department of Justice will not tolerate attempts by an authoritarian regime to undermine those protections and the rule of law upon which our democracy is based. We will not tolerate attempts by a foreign power to threaten, silence, or harm Americans. We will stop at nothing to identify, find, and bring to justice those who endanger the safety of the American people.”
Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco said: “Today’s indictment exposes a dangerous menace to national security – a double threat posed by a vicious transnational crime group operating from what it thought was the safe haven of a rogue nation: Iran. As national security and criminal threats continue to blend, the Department of Justice will use all its tools to zealously protect freedom and hold accountable all those who would use violence to undermine it.”
Director Christopher A. Wray said: “The indictment unsealed today reflects the FBI’s commitment to follow the facts wherever they lead, to work our way up to the leaders of criminal plots wherever they are, and to use our long reach to bring those responsible here to face justice in the United States. The conduct charged shows how far Iranian actors are willing to go to silence critics, even attempting to assassinate a U.S. citizen on American soil. We are determined to safeguard the rights of all Americans from the oppressive reach of hostile regimes.”
Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen said: “Today’s charges underscore the Department’s commitment to protecting Americans and our fundamental values in the face of all forms of transnational repression. To foreign actors who plot violence on our soil believing they are out of reach, know that we will pursue you, wherever you may be, until we deliver justice.”
FBI Assistant Director Michael J. Driscoll said: “We allege the defendants are members of an organized crime group that was tasked with carrying out the coldblooded murder of an American citizen in our city who has long been a target of the Iranian regime. This plot was an attempt to silence a voice critical of Iranian authoritarianism and human rights atrocities. The FBI, along with our partners in law enforcement, will continue to aggressively pursue individuals tasked by Iran or other hostile foreign governments to perform illegal action inside our borders or against our citizens. The FBI will not tolerate foreign governments attempting to violate our laws and freedom.”
According to the allegations contained in the Superseding Indictment, other court filings, and statements made during court proceedings:
AMIROV is a leader in an Eastern European criminal organization (the “Organization”) who resides in Iran. OMAROV also holds a leadership role in the Organization and resides in Eastern Europe. MEHDIYEV, a member of the Organization, resides in Yonkers, New York. The Organization has ties to Iran and is violent, engaging in murders, kidnappings, assaults, and extortions, and members typically identify themselves with tattoos and other displays of eight-pointed stars.
Since at least July 2022, the Organization was tasked with carrying out the murder of a U.S. citizen of Iranian origin (the “Victim”), who previously has been the target of plots by the Government of Iran to intimidate, harass, and kidnap the Victim. The Victim is a journalist, author, and human rights activist, residing in Brooklyn, New York, who has publicized the Government of Iran’s human rights abuses and suppression of political expression, including in connection with continuing protests against the regime across Iran. As recently as 2020 and 2021, Iranian intelligence officials and assets plotted to kidnap the Victim from within the United States for rendition to Iran in an effort to silence the Victim’s criticism of the regime. That plot was disrupted and exposed by the FBI and led to the filing of federal kidnapping conspiracy and other charges in the Southern District of New York against several participants in the plot in United States v. Farahani, et al., 21 Cr. 430 (RA) (S.D.N.Y.).
About one year after the Farahani charges were filed, the Organization was tasked with carrying out the Victim’s assassination on U.S. soil. Beginning in approximately mid-July 2022, AMIROV sent targeting information – which AMIROV had received from other individuals in Iran – about the Victim and the Victim’s residence to OMAROV. OMAROV, in turn, communicated the targeting information to MEHDIYEV in order to begin conducting surveillance of the Victim and reconnaissance of the Victim’s residence and surrounding neighborhood. MEHDIYEV sent photographs and videos of the Victim’s residence to OMAROV for further sharing with AMIROV and the plot’s orchestrators in Iran.
After MEHDIYEV’s initial surveillance of the Victim’s residence, AMIROV and OMAROV arranged for the delivery of a $30,000 cash payment to MEHDIYEV in New York City in furtherance of the plot. MEHDIYEV used a portion of this cash payment to buy an AK-47-style assault rifle, along with two magazines for ammunition and at least 66 rounds. MEHDIYEV bragged in electronic communications that he had procured for himself a “war machine.”
Between July 20 and 28, 2022, MEHDIYEV repeatedly traveled to the Victim’s neighborhood to conduct surveillance and reconnaissance, sending reports of the Victim’s activities, photographs, and videos to OMAROV for further distribution to AMIROV. On July 24, 2022, after arriving at the Victim’s residence, MEHDIYEV reported to OMAROV that MEHDIYEV was “at the crime scene.” OMAROV encouraged MEHDIYEV, “You are a man!” MEHDIYEV described to OMAROV that “we blocked it from both sides, it will be a show once she steps out of the house.” OMAROV forwarded this report to AMIROV, who responded, “God willing.”
MEHDIYEV was unable to carry out the assassination that day and returned on several subsequent days to seek out opportunities to complete the murder mission. AMIROV, OMAROV, and MEHDIYEV schemed different strategies to attempt to draw the Victim out, including by attempting to ask the Victim for flowers from the Victim’s garden. On July 28, 2022, MEHDIYEV sent OMAROV a video taken from inside the car MEHDIYEV was driving showing the assault rifle, along with the message that “we are ready.” The Victim, after observing suspicious activity outside the residence, left the area, and MEHDIYEV drove away shortly afterwards. After MEHDIYEV drove away from the Victim’s residence, he was stopped after a traffic violation, and during a subsequent search of the car, police officers found the assault rifle, 66 rounds of ammunition, approximately $1,100 in cash, and a black ski mask.
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AMIROV, 43, of Iran, OMAROV, 38, of the Czech Republic and Slovenia, and MEHDIYEV, 24, of Yonkers, New York, have each been charged with: (i) murder-for-hire, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison; (ii) conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison; and (iii) conspiracy to commit money laundering, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. MEHDIYEV is also charged with possessing a firearm with an obliterated serial number, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
The potential maximum sentences in this case are prescribed by Congress and provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendants will be determined by Judge McMahon.
Mr. Williams praised the outstanding investigative work of the FBI and its New York Field Office Counterintelligence-Cyber Division, the New York FBI Iran Threat Task Force, the New York FBI Counterintelligence Task Force, and the New York FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force. Mr. Williams also thanked the New York City Police Department (“NYPD”) and the NYPD Intelligence Bureau, as well as the Department of Justice’s National Security Division and the Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs for their assistance.
This case is being handled by the Office’s National Security and International Narcotics Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael D. Lockard, Jacob H. Gutwillig, and Matthew J.C. Hellman are in charge of the prosecution, with assistance from Trial Attorney Christopher M. Rigali of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section.
The charges in the Superseding Indictment are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.