Son of ‘Bill Gates of Iran’ Held by U.S. in Sanctions Case

  • Judge rejects hefty bail offer, saying businessman might flee
  • Sadr accused of laundering $115 million through U.S. banks

A businessman described by U.S. prosecutors as the son of the “Bill Gates of Iran” was ordered held without bail after pleading not guilty late Wednesday to charges that he helped circumvent sanctions restrictions and launder $115 million in payments through American banks.

Ali Sadr Hashemi Nejad, 38, who holds dual Iranian-St. Kitts citizenship, offered to put up millions of dollars’ worth of cash and U.S. real estate and wear an electronic monitoring bracelet to remain free pending trial, but U.S. Magistrate Judge Barbara Moses concluded there’s too a great a risk he’d try to flee if freed.

Sadr was arrested arriving in Washington March 19 and charged with six counts of conspiracy, bank fraud, sanctions evasion and money laundering, and was transported to New York on Tuesday. Federal prosecutors in New York accuse him of using a web of shell companies and bank accounts in Switzerland and Turkey to arrange U.S. dollar payments from a Venezuelan energy company to a Tehran-based construction company in Iran owned by his family.

His family company, Stratus Group, had been contracted to build about 7,000 housing units for more than $475 million. Manhattan prosecutor Matthew Laroche said during the hearing that the company that contracted for the housing was Venezuelan national oil giant PDVSA, and that its payments to Stratus Group originated from accounts in Portugal.

The payments were laundered through the U.S. because Stratus wanted to be paid in dollars, Laroche said, and emails obtained in the investigation showed Sadr intentionally structured the transactions to avoid sanctions restrictions. Stratus Group was founded by Sadr’s father, who was characterized by prosecutors as the "Bill Gates of Iran."

Prosecutors and defense lawyers also confirmed Sadr is the owner of Malta-based Pilatus Bank, which has been under investigation for money laundering there and was seized by authorities after Sadr’s arrest last week.

Sadr’s lawyer, Andrew Bauer of Arnold & Porter, said he obtained dual bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Cornell University, and owned a $2 million apartment in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington. He acknowledged the email evidence against him in the case, but said nothing in the messages connected Sadr to support for the Iranian government and that they showed he didn’t believe he was violating sanctions as a non-U.S. citizen.

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