Toronto businessman ‘blindsided’ by U.S. allegations he helped Iran evade sanctions

A Toronto currency exchange business owner accused by the FBI of violating sanctions against Iran is “shocked, surprised and amazed” by the allegations, his lawyer said.

“This came out of left field,” said Barry Fox, who represents Salim Henareh, one of 10 suspects named in a criminal complaint unsealed by the U.S. District Court.

The owner of Rosco Trading Ltd., Henareh denies helping Iran skirt sanctions and has not been arrested, questioned or served with extradition papers, Fox told Global News.

The U.S. Justice department declined to comment on whether it was seeking extradition of any of the Canadians named in the complaint.

The RCMP said it could neither confirm nor deny its involvement in the case.

Canada’s Department of Justice said extradition requests were “confidential state-to-state communications. Until an extradition is made public by the courts, we cannot confirm whether a specific request exists.”

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“There are currently no extradition proceedings pending in the courts in relation to any of the individuals identified in the US indictments you have referred to,” spokesperson Ian McLeod said.

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The criminal complaint, filed in Los Angeles in October and made public on Friday, accused Henareh and nine others of Iran sanctions violations totalling more than US$300-Million.

The complaint named Henareh and his companies Rosco Trading and Persepolis International. The companies have the same address and Henareh is president of both, it said.

“According to court documents, the complaint details a decades-long conspiracy to evade U.S. sanctions on Iran, a nation which the U.S. State Department has designated as a state sponsor of terrorism,” the U.S. news release said.

“During the scheme, the defendants allegedly created and used more than 70 front companies, money service businesses and exchange houses — often using the name Persepolis or Rosco — in the United States, Iran, Canada, the United Arab Emirates and Hong Kong,” it said.

“The defendants also allegedly made false representations to financial institutions to disguise more than $300 million worth of transactions on Iran’s behalf, using money wired in U.S. dollars and sent through U.S.-based banks.”

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Fox said Henareh had not spoken to U.S. investigators about the allegations, but was willing to. “We’re not going to go running to them to assist, but if they reach out to us, we’re more than happy to talk.”

Henareh is already cooperating with the RCMP investigation into Cameron Ortis, the former head of the police force’s national intelligence centre, Fox said.

“In fact, we were expecting a letter from the Department of Justice any day now outlining his cooperation,” Fox said. “He’s been cooperating throughout, and it’s odd to be blindsided this way.”

Ortis was arrested in 2019 for allegedly communicating “special operational information” to three individuals and attempted to do so to a fourth. He is also charged with breach of trust and computer-related fraud.

According to the U.S. criminal complaint, starting in 1999, Henareh served as president of Persepolis Financial Services, an Encino, Calif., company that “facilitated illegal transfers of U.S. dollars on behalf of Iran.”

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In 2003, Persepolis vice-president Issa Shayegh was convicted of sending money to Iran, it said. Henareh, Shayegh and Seyed Zangakani then set up shop in Canada and the United Arab Emirates, the complaint alleged.

A screengrab from the Rosco Trading website saying the company is no longer conducting transfers to or from Iran due to sanctions.

The complaint accused Henareh and others of “transactions secretly executed on behalf of Iran.”

Among the allegations are that in 2012, Henareh and three others used a Hong Kong-based “front company to secretly buy two US$25-million oil tankers on behalf of Iran.”

An FBI special agent told the U.S. court that Henareh, Khalil and two others used a “front company” to acquire the vessels, the Ocean Performer and the Zap, from a businessperson on behalf of the Iran-based Supplying Petrochemical Industries Part Equipment and Chemical Engineering Company.

Khalil Henareh and another Canadian, Saeed Abtahi, were also named as defendants. Fox said Khalil denied the allegations. Abtahi could not be reached for comment.

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In addition to the criminal complaint, the U.S. has filed a civil complaint against the defendants, seeking “a money laundering penalty in the amount of US$157,332,367.”

None of the charges in the complaints made public last week have been proven in court.

According to the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada, Rosco Trading is a registered money-services business operating as Steeles Tradehouse.

Persepolis ceased activities in 2012, according to FINTRAC.

The Canada Revenue Agency website lists Rosco Trading as a recipient of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, a program set up by the Liberal government to assist companies during the pandemic.

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© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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