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Court Overturns Sanctions Charges against Iranian American

By Sheyda Monshizadeh-Azar, National Iranian American Council (NIAC)

Washington, DC - A federal appeals court ordered a new trial for Reza Banki on Monday, overturning key charges that the Iranian American had violated U.S. sanctions laws. Banki was sentenced in August 2010 to two and a half years in prison and ordered to forfeit $3.4 million for making and receiving family remittances to Iran through havaleh.

Iran Sanctions- (U.S. Department of the Treasury
Iran Sanctions (U.S. Department of the Treasury)

The Second Court of Appeals threw out those charges, stating that the general license allowing for noncommercial family remittances to Iran was unclear as to whether it only applied to remittances processed through U.S. banks. However, sanctions experts warned that the decision does not change the fact that Iranian Americans should not use havaleh. "Using havaleh could lead to an investigation for aid and abetting an unlicensed money transmitter," said Erich Ferrari, a lawyer specializing in U.S. trade sanctions.

In his appeal, Banki received support from numerous organizations, including NIAC and the Iranian American Bar Association, which jointly filed an amicus brief to the court on Banki's behalf. NIAC is deeply concerned about the effects sanctions have had on Iranian Americans and has worked to ensure Iranian Americans are not inadvertently caught up in efforts to police the sanctions. NIAC has held educational seminars and has petitioned the U.S. Treasury to clarify its regulations on family remittances to Iran. The Treasury is still processing that request.

Banki has been in custody since January 2010 and has already served the majority of his sentence. While the Court upheld two charges of making false statements against Banki, the maximum sentence for the charges is usually less than six months, according to the Associated Press.

Banki's lawyers are expected to request that he be released on bail in a hearing early next week.

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