A federal judge has challenged the U.S. government’s move to drop charges against an Iranian man accused of sanctions violations as part of a U.S. prisoner trade arranged with Iran last month.
Federal prosecutors filed a motion on Jan. 16 to drop the case against Alireza Moazami Goudarzi, an Iranian man who was accused in 2012 of trying to purchase aircraft parts for Iran, comprising those for military aircraft engines.
Discharging Goudarzi was part of a wider deal which also saw U.S. officials’ move to drop international arrest orders and any charges against 13 other Iranians outside America. Also, the administration offered clemency deals to seven Iranians in the United States, mostly restrained for or charged with sanctions violations.
In return, Iran released five Americans it had been holding, including Iranian-American Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian.
Iran’s release of the Americans concurred with the lifting of economic sanctions against Iran in return for curbing Tehran’s nuclear program.
Last week, U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel in New York threatened in a court order to rebuff the government’s dismissal of charges against Goudarzi on condition that prosecutors could explain “significant foreign policy interests” they had referred to as a reason to drop the case.
In his order, Castel wrote that requests prompted by “considerations clearly contrary to the public interest” should not be approved by the court.
Reuters found in a review of court records that Castel is the only judge so far who is known to have look into the dismissals, which were also filed in jurisdictions including Arizona, Washington, D.C. and California.
The prisoner swap led to controversial debate, leaving President Barack Obama’s administration open to criticism from Republicans saying that it had presented too much to Iran in return for the release of the Americans.
In a response to Castel’s order, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Cronan said on Monday that the prisoner swap was a “one-time, unique agreement based on extraordinary circumstances” that had been reached for the sake of releasing the American prisoners detained in Iran.
“The United States Government has made clear to the Government of Iran that the United States does not expect to repeat these actions,” Cronan said in a court brief.
The U.S. authorities had been incapable of locating Goudarzi since his release from Malaysian custody after being detained there in 2012, and there was no “realistic prospect” of arrest and extradition in the near future, he added.
Rarely do judges challenge dismissals by prosecutors, which are usually granted without extensive further inquiry, said David L. Hall, a former federal prosecutor.
“The court is basically saying, ‘I’m not a rubber stamp,'” said Hall, now a partner at law firm Wiggin and Dana in Philadelphia.