Judge Hints at Potential Disciplinary Action for Prosecutors in Sanctions Case
11 Jun 2020

A federal judge indicated prosecutors could face disciplinary action for allegedly failing to turn over evidence in a case that led to the conviction of an Iranian man on money-laundering and sanctions violations charges.

The comments from Judge Alison Nathan came in response to a Friday request by the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan to drop the case against Ali Sadr Hashemi Nejad. Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said it wasn’t worth the office’s resources to continue litigating “disclosure-related issues” that arose during, before and after the trial.

Mr. Berman’s request followed a number of developments in the case that “raised serious concerns about the conduct of the government,” Judge Nathan said in an order issued Tuesday.

Prosecutors are obligated to hand over before trial any evidence that could help defendants prove their innocence. Prosecutors who suppress such evidence can face allegations of misconduct and possible disciplinary action.

Judge Nathan described prosecutors’ alleged efforts to conceal a late disclosure from defense lawyers and mislead the court about it. She requested that prosecutors list all material that may have been improperly withheld from Mr. Sadr’s lawyers. She also ordered prosecutors to identify government lawyers and supervisors responsible for alleged disclosure failures and inquired about steps taken in response to the handling of the case.

A spokesman for the Southern District of New York declined to comment.

Mr. Sadr, 40 years old, was charged in 2018 for allegedly funneling more than $115 million in payments related to a housing project his Iranian family business had agreed to build in Venezuela on behalf of the Iranian government, according to the Justice Department.

Prosecutors alleged that he created a network of front companies in Switzerland, Turkey, and St. Kitts and Nevis and foreign bank accounts to hide the Iranian dealings in Venezuela. The payments went through the U.S. financial system and benefited Iranian individuals and entities, including Mr. Sadr’s father and their family business, prosecutors said.

The U.S. has broad sanctions against the government of Iran, generally prohibiting exporting U.S. goods, technology and services to Iran or its government. The sanctions generally prohibit the use of U.S. financial services for transactions involving Iran.

Jurors in March convicted Mr. Sadr on charges of bank fraud, money laundering and conspiracy to violate U.S. sanctions.

Lawyers representing Mr. Sadr had complained about prosecutors’ failure to disclose before the trial evidence that may have helped Mr. Sadr’s defense. During and after the trial, prosecutors produced interviews and documents that contained potentially exculpatory evidence that could have affected the outcome of the trial, the lawyers said in a May court filing. They had requested acquittal or a new trial before the prosecutors’ Friday request.

By Mengqi Sun, The Wall Street Journal, 10 June 2020

Read more at The Wall Street Journal

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