Manssor Arbabsiar, an Iranian-American car salesman, admitted to conspiring last year with members of the Iranian military to kill Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the U.S. in a Washington restaurant.
Arbabsiar, 57, who was scheduled to go on trial in January, pleaded guilty yesterday before U.S. District Judge John Keenan in Manhattan to three crimes: traveling in the commission of a murder-for-hire plot; conspiring to commit a murder for hire and conspiring to commit an act of terrorism transcending national boundaries.
While Arbabsiar faced a potential life prison term had he been convicted after trial, Keenan told Arbabsiar he now faces a maximum of 25 years in prison when he is sentenced Jan. 23. The judge told Arbabsiar, who remains in custody, was told that he could seek a lesser term. Prosecutors may also seek a longer sentence.
According to prosecutors in the office of Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, Arbabsiar and Gholam Shakuri, who the U.S. said was a member of Iran’s Qods Force, hired a member of a Mexican drug cartel to kill Ambassador Adel Al-Jubeir. The man they approached to be their assassin was actually an undercover informant working for the U.S., prosecutors said.
“In Mexico, we hired a person named ‘Junior,’ who turned out to be an FBI agent, to kidnap the ambassador,” Arbabsiar told the judge yesterday. “Junior said it would be easier to kill the ambassador. I and others agreed to go along with this new plan. We agreed to pay Junior, and to do that we transferred money to the United States from Iran.”
A naturalized U.S. citizen living in Texas, Arbabsiar, yesterday said he wired more than $100,000 into the country as part of the plot. The funds went through a bank in New York. The U.S. said Arbabsiar explained to the undercover that the Iranian officials he was working with were willing to pay him $1.5 million for his work.
Yesterday in court Arbabsiar said he made two wire transfers of funds toward payment of the assassination totaling $100,000 through a bank in New York. The transfer was made with Shakuri’s approval, the U.S. said.
Arbabsiar also traveled to Mexico from Iran and met and recruited as the assassin, prosecutors said. The U.S. also recorded some of the conversations in which Arbabsiar told the undercover source that a relative of his in the Iranian military, wanted the Saudi ambassador killed.
“Kill is better,” Arbabsiar said in the July 2011 conversation recorded by the U.S. “This is politics, OK, it’s not like, eh, personal. This is politics, so these people, they pay,” Arbabsiar said in the recording.
Yesterday in court, Judge Keenan asked prosecutors if they wanted to ask Arbabsiar any questions. After conferring, Assistant U.S. Attorney Edward Kim, turned and asked the defendant, “Mr. Arbabsiar, were the people you agreed with in this plot officials in the Iranian military?”
“Yes, part of it,” Arbabsiar answered.
Arbabsiar, who said he came to the U.S. and studied mechanical engineering in Louisiana, said the assassination was to be carried out in a restaurant in Washington.
“Are you offering to plead guilty of your own free will Mr. Arbabsiar?” Keenan asked.
“Yeah, I take responsibility for my actions,” he said with a shrug.
“Did you tell the whole truth?” Keenan asked.
“I don’t like to lie, so that’s why I’m here,” Arbabsiar answered.
Arbabsiar’s lawyer, Sabrina Shroff, declined to comment after court. Shakuri remains at large, prosecutors said.
When the case was first announced last October, Attorney General Eric Holder said the U.S. would hold Iran responsible for any terrorist actions tied to the plot, which he said was sponsored by the Iranian government. He called the conspiracy a “flagrant” violation of international law.
The U.S. State Department has described the Qods Force as an arm of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Other Qods Force members in Iran were involved and helped to bankroll the plot, which was to have cost $1.5 million, prosecutors said.
The case is U.S. v. Arbabsiar, 11-cr-00897, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).