Judge rebukes federal prosecutors in Iran sanctions case

Judge rebukes federal prosecutors in Iran sanctions case
© OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images

A New York judge on Wednesday castigated federal prosecutors for a series of errors that cratered their case against a banker charged with violating Iranian sanctions.

U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan in July vacated a guilty verdict against Ali Sadr Hashemi Nejad, citing prosecutorial misconduct. The government announced it would dismiss the charges shortly thereafter, a rare step for the government to take after it has already won a case.

After the verdict, prosecutors disclosed to Nathan that they had sent internal emails discussing whether to “bury” a document they were providing to Sadr’s attorneys in the middle of a stack of papers, according to Reuters. The disclosure noted that the government did not ultimately do this and provided the requested document within 24 hours. Sadr’s lawyers said the government also misrepresented how it searched his emails in presenting its case.

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On Wednesday, Nathan said an admission of wrongdoing was not enough and that the government needed to “unequivocally condemn” its “significant errors,” according to Reuters. She also faulted the U.S. Attorney’s Office [USAO] for not ensuring the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility would investigate the matter.

"Those who stand up in court every day on behalf of that office get the benefit of that reputation - but they also have the responsibility to maintain it," Nathan wrote. "The Court commends the USAO's admission of error and effort to do justice in this case by agreeing to dismiss the indictment. Better late than never."

Nathan called for improved training on disclosure obligations and digital search warrants in acting U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss’s office.

Sadr was accused of funneling $115 million to Iran using foreign companies for a Venezuelan construction project. His lawyers, Reid Weingarten and Brian Heberlig, said Wednesday in a joint statement that he was "an honest businessman and patriotic U.S. immigrant who did not deserve the mistreatment he received from the U.S. government."