MANHATTAN (CN) — Two sick jurors videoconferencing from home helped convict Iranian national Ali Sadr Hashemi Nejad on Monday of a $115 million sanctions-evasion scheme that ran through Venezuela.
As courts have closed throughout the United States in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic, Sadr’s deliberations continued but adapted for the crisis as two jurors fell ill. It was unclear whether either had contracted the virus, but courthouse restrictions mandated that they take no chances about social distancing.
Hours after Sadr agreed to let the jurors huddle remotely, the Iranian citizen was found guilty of five out of six counts. The jurors incompletely entered two of the guilty counts on their verdict sheet and acquitted on the final count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.
“I will say to the jurors that two jurors indicated some general unwell feeling symptoms and out of an abundance [of caution] both decided not to come in,” U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan announced this morning. “One is able to join by videoconference and proceed. I anticipate we might have negative reaction from the other jurors to hearing that.”
Indicted in March 2018, Sadr had been accused of funneling a portion of a nearly half-billion-dollar Venezuelan construction contract through the U.S. banking system, using entities in Switzerland, Turkey and the British Virgin Islands to mask Iran’s identity.
Prosecutors traced the conspiracy to an August 2004 agreement between the Iranian and Venezuelan governments on an infrastructure project led by Stratus Group, an Iranian conglomerate controlled by Sadr.
Prosecutors say Stratus Group incorporated in Tehran in late 2006 as the Iranian International Housing Corporation, which entered into a contract with a Venezuelan state-owned energy company the next year to build roughly 7,000 housing units in Venezuela.
According to the indictment, Sadr and an unnamed co-conspirator incorporated two other entities in 2010: the Swiss company Clarity Trade and Finance and the Turkish company Stratus Turkey (aka Straturk).
Sadr’s attorney did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.
U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said the verdict sent out a warning to would-be sanctions-violators.
“Sadr’s conviction shows that U.S. economic sanctions against Iran are for real, and violators will be exposed and prosecuted,” he said.