GOP operatives lobbied to free U.S. businessman held for years in Iran

High-level Republican operatives lobbied last year for the release of a U.S. businessman from Iran, according to new lobbying disclosure records.

Profile Strategy Group, a Concord, N.H.-based GOP consulting firm, was hired by Nima Taghavi — son of Reza Taghavi, who was imprisoned in Iran for two and a half years — to lobby for his father's release.

The firm is run by Jamie Burnett, political director for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's (R) 2008 New Hampshire presidential primary campaign, along with James Sununu and Michael Sununu. Both Sununus are sons to the former New Hampshire governor and state GOP party chairman, John Sununu.

Accused of helping to fund an alleged terrorist group, Reza Taghavi was freed by Iran’s government in October last year. The consulting firm began to lobby for his release earlier that month, according to records.

Michael Sununu was the only principal of the firm registered to lobby on Taghavi's behalf — specifically “freeing Reza Taghavi from Iran” — according to lobbying disclosure forms filed Jan. 5. The firm was paid $12,000 for its work.

Introduced to Nima Taghavi by way of a mutual friend, the firm was one of several groups working on the effort to free Reza Taghavi, and concentrated on outreach to Capitol Hill, according to a firm principal. It arranged meetings between Nima Taghavi and several members of Congress and their aides so he could brief them on the details of his father’s imprisonment.

Nima Taghavi is the first lobbying client for Profile Strategy Group, which is active in New England Republican politics.

Also working for Reza Taghavi’s release was former U.S. Ambassador Pierre-Richard Prosper, now a partner at law firm Arent Fox, who represented the businessman's family in talks with Iranian officials. From 2001 to 2005, Prosper was the ambassador-at-large who led the State Department’s Office of War Crimes Issues.

According to press reports, Reza Taghavi — an Iranian-American businessman who lives in Los Angeles — was never charged with a crime. Iranian officials reportedly believed he brought money to Iran to help an alleged terrorist group, known as Tondar, which was held responsible for a 2008 mosque bombing that killed 14 people.

Reza Taghavi said he brought about $200 to Iran to help a struggling family as a favor for another Iranian-American. He has denied being part of any terrorist organization.

Reza Taghavi’s release followed soon after Iran freed Sarah Shourd in September.

Shourd was one of three American hikers imprisoned by Iran on espionage charges after allegedly crossing into the country from Iraqi Kurdistan, which they deny. The other two are still being held in Iran.