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Iran convicts American businessman on spying charge: report

Iran convicts American businessman on spying charge: report
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Iran convicted an American businessman on a spying charge and sentenced him to 10 years in prison weeks after the U.S. election, NBC News reported Sunday. 

A family friend of Iranian-American Emad Shargi, 56, told NBC News that he was called to court on Nov. 30, convicted of espionage without trial and sentenced to a decade in jail. The conviction came almost a year after an Iranian court acquitted Shargi, but officials continued to hold onto his Iranian and U.S. passports. 

Shagi’s family in a statement obtained by the network that they have not heard from him for more than six weeks.

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Iranian and Farsi-language outlets had previously reported about Shagi’s conviction but did not include that he was a U.S. citizen. He was not immediately taken into custody until his arrest on Dec. 6, NBC News reported, citing Iranian media.  

A State Department spokesperson said in a statement on Monday that it is "aware that Iran has detained another U.S. citizen."

"The protection of U.S. citizens overseas remains a top priority for the U.S. government," the spokesperson said. "We cannot comment further at this time."

Shargi, who was born in Iran and educated in the U.S., had moved back to Iran with his wife in 2016. The family friend said Shargi had no history or interest in political activity. 

He was first arrested in April 2018 and imprisoned until December 2018 after being released on bail. The family friend told NBC News that during his imprisonment he was interrogated and blindfolded and put in a room’s corner. 

Iranian Judge Abolqasem Salavati, who the U.S. Treasury Department has sanctioned, handled Shargi’s November conviction and sentencing.

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Shargi’s family in the statement obtained by NBC News called him “the heart and soul of our family.”

"We just pray for his health and safety," the statement said. "It's been more than six weeks since he was taken and we have no idea where he is or who has him. Out of caution for his well-being, we've never spoken publicly about his case and don't wish to now. Please pray for Emad and for his safe return home."

Shargi is the fourth Iranian-American to be detained in Iran, in addition to Siamak Namazi, who has been in jail since 2015, his father Baquer, who is on medical furlough, and Morad Tahbaz, an environmental activist.

The report comes days before President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump State Department appointee arrested in connection with Capitol riot FireEye finds evidence Chinese hackers exploited Microsoft email app flaw since January Biden officials to travel to border amid influx of young migrants MORE will take office and as the president-elect has expressed an openness to returning to diplomacy with Iran if it returns to compliance with the 2015 nuclear agreement.

Shargi’s conviction could complicate Biden’s efforts to return to the nuclear agreement and reduce sanctions on the country. 

President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump State Department appointee arrested in connection with Capitol riot Intelligence community investigating links between lawmakers, Capitol rioters Michelle Obama slams 'partisan actions' to 'curtail access to ballot box' MORE had withdrawn the U.S. from the nuclear agreement in 2018 and imposed sanctions on the country. Since then, Iran has publicly strayed from the requirements in the deal, which could further impede Biden’s plans for the country. 

The Biden transition team declined to comment to The Hill.

-- Updated 1/18 at 8:41 p.m.