Iranian expatriates living in the United States, of whom a vast majority oppose the Ayatollah regime in Tehran, have recently become entangled in criminal investigations due to new embargo laws against the Islamic Republic.
The sanctions, meant to pressure Tehran into calling off its nuclear program, have effectively prevented the import or export of any merchandise or capital from and to Iran.
"It's very hard to transfer money through the banks," an Iranian lawyer based in the United States told National Public Radio (NPR), adding that the problem becomes especially acute in cases where parents in Iran bequest property to children living abroad.
"In effect, when items such as rugs and artifacts are shipped to United States, the legal restrictions are violated," he noted.
'Hard to retain family ties.' Iranian shopping in Tehran (Photo: AFP)
One story that received a lot of attention in American media outlets is that of Mahmoud Reza Banki, a 35-year-old banker who held a senior position at a financial firm in New York.
Banki arrived to the United States when he was 18-years-old, and completed a PhD in chemical engineering at Princeton University. Most of Banki's family, who own many businesses, stayed behind in Iran.
In January 2010 Banki was arrested and accused of receiving large sums of money from Iran, while violating the embargo. Banki's family made 56 wire transfers to his account in the United States over a period of three years, totaling $3.4 million.
Banki reported the money, which he used to purchase a $2.4 million apartment in New York, in his tax returns as required by law, but was nonetheless convicted of running an illegal money-transfer business between Iran and the US, and sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison.
Lawyers representing Iranian expats say their clients complain that the sanctions make it impossible to retain normal ties with family members living in Iran. Some said they wanted to send money to needy relatives, but were concerned about the consequences.
The United States issued its first round of sanctions against Iran after the Islamic Revolution swept the country in 1979. The sanctions have been aggravated throughout the years, reaching a new peak last month, after the International Atomic Energy Agency published a report that presented clear evidence of Iran's intention to develop nuclear weapons.
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