HOUSTON (CN) - As two men walked out of a federal jail Sunday in the prisoner exchange with Iran, one of their attorneys called it "an exchange of innocence for innocence."
Khosraw Afghahi, 72, and Bahram Mechanic, 69, were pardoned and released. They own Iran-based Faratel Corp. and its Houston-based sister company Smart Power Systems, which opened in 1984 and makes electronic equipment and surge protectors.
Federal agents arrested them in April 2015 on charges of shipping $24 million worth of microelectronics used to build missiles to Iran in violation of trade sanctions.
Each faced up to 20 years in prison based on a 24-count indictment and their companies up to $1 million fines for each violation of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.
They were two of the seven Iranians in the United States whom President Obama pardoned in exchange for the release of four Americans imprisoned in Iran, including Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian.
A third Houston resident, Mechanic's nephew Tooraj Faridi, 46, also was pardoned. He is vice president of Smart Power Systems and was charged with helping transfer U.S. technology to Iran.
Iran threatened until the last minute to scuttle the deal, by refusing to let Razaian's wife and mother leave Iran with him. It was unclear whether Iran did it to show its muscle to the United States, or because hard-liners in Iran's security services wanted to demonstrate their power.
Hours after the prisoner swap, which took more than a year to negotiate, the United States and European nations lifted sanctions on Iran that will let it sell oil abroad and give it access to $100 billion in frozen assets - plus $1.3 billion in interest. The prisoner exchange came after international inspectors found the country had dismantled key components of its nuclear program.
The seven pardoned Iranians had been convicted or charged with breaking U.S. trade embargoes against Iran.
Iran held up its end of the bargain by shipping 98 percent of its nuclear fuel to Russia, dismantling more than 12,000 uranium-enriching centrifuges and pouring cement into the core of a reactor built to produce plutonium, according to The New York Times.
Despite the diplomatic progress, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Tuesday warned his government to be on the alert for American "treachery."
That remark came after President Obama imposed new, much milder sanctions on Iran, for announcing a new round of missile tests, the day after the prisoner swap was completed.
Obama praised the diplomatic initiative, while many Republicans derided it.
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani split the difference at a news conference, saying: "Everybody is happy except the Zionists, the warmongers who are fueling sectarian war among Islamic nations, and the hard-liners in the U.S. Congress."
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