US couple accused of funnelling money to Iran

An indictment alleges the Texas couple conspired to defraud the government.

Portland: A Texas couple and the head of an Oregon charity secretly sent millions of dollars to an Iranian bank and to a contact in Iran for nine years, violating the US embargo on the Middle East country, according to a federal indictment.

The indictment describes an alleged scheme in which the Texas couple got tax exemptions for their donations to the Portland-based Child Foundation charity. The head of the charity, Mehrdad Yasrebi, allegedly funnelled money that was meant for food and other assistance to his cousin and to a bank controlled by the Iranian government.

Working through Iranian corporations and banks in Switzerland and Dubai, the Texas couple and Yasrebi`s cousin masked their transfers by using food shipments and other commodities to cover financial donations intended for a sister charity in Iran run by the cousin, federal prosecutors say.

"These defendants are charged with going to extraordinary lengths to conceal the transfer of large sums of money in violation of the Iranian embargo," Dwight Holton, the US Attorney for Oregon, said in a statement yesterday.

A 26-page indictment alleges the Texas couple, Najmeh Vahid and Dr Hossein Lahiji, conspired to defraud the government and laundered money by purporting to transfer charitable donations to Iran while actually keeping control of the money.

Also named in the indictment as a defendant is Ahmad Iranshahi, cousin of Yasrebi and the head of the sister charity started in Iran by the two men and other family members in 1999.