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US citizen of Iranian descent sentenced to 4 years in prison for crimes related to attempted kidnapping plot of US journalist

<i>CNN</i><br/>Masih Alinejad appears on CNN on August 1
Masih Alinejad appears on CNN on August 1

By Kia Fatahi and Samantha Beech, CNN

A US citizen of Iranian descent living in California was sentenced to four years in prison Friday for crimes related to the attempted kidnapping plot of Masih Alinejad, a New York-based journalist and human rights activist, according to federal court documents.

Niloufar Bahadorifar, 48, pleaded guilty in December for conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, which gives the president “the authority to deal with unusual and extraordinary threats to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”

“Niloufar Bahadorifar willfully violated sanctions and knowingly provided financial support to Iranian intelligence assets, who in turn were engaged in a plot to kidnap an Iranian human rights activist living in the United States whom the Iranian Government has sought to silence for years,” US Attorney Damian Williams said in a press release from the US Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York.

Bahadorifar was first charged in 2021 along with four Iranian nationals.

The other defendants, who are based in Iran and remain at large, were charged with conspiracies related to kidnapping, sanctions violations, bank and wire fraud and money laundering, CNN previously reported.

Bahadorifar wasn’t charged with participating in the kidnapping plot and the US government isn’t alleging she knew about it or “participated in it,” according to the court judgment.

However, the government does allege she was “far from an unwitting participant.”

Beginning in approximately 2015, in exchange for payment, she provided illegal financial and other services, including access to the US financial system and financial institutions, to Iranian nationals and entities and the Iranian government in support of the plot, according to the court judgment.

In 2019, she was also responsible for structuring “at least approximately” $476,100 in more than 120 individual deposits, with two of the deposits exceeding $10,000, according to court documents.

In addition to her prison term, Bahadorifar was sentenced to three years of supervised release, according to the judgment.

Jeffrey Lichtman, an attorney representing Bahadorifar, said in a statement emailed to CNN Saturday that he was “disappointed” with the sentence, but wrote he understood “that politically the judge felt pressure to impose this sentence — and the need to deter similar conduct in America by anyone who would assist the Iranian terror regime evade sanctions, no matter how small.”

“Ms. Bahadorifar was not charged with any involvement in the plot to kidnap Ms. Alinejad because she had no knowledge that it would occur; instead she made a $670 payment to an investigator at the behest of an old family friend. Unfortunately, not only is Iran’s terror regime killing their own people in the streets but they’re also committing terrorism all over the planet, and sadly they involved a single mother this time,” the statement reads.

Alinejad said in a video statement on Twitter Friday that she came face to face with Bahadorifar shortly after appearing in federal court.

“In my statement I said in the federal court, that this is beyond belief that anyone could even claim that they are unaware of the evil nature of the Islamic Republic,” said Alinejad. “The sentence today is a reminder for the US government, for Europeans, who is still trying to get a deal with the Islamic Republic because the Islamic Republic is a terrorist regime.”

Prosecutors, in their sentencing submission, did not allege Bahadorifar had specific knowledge of the kidnapping plot, but did claim she knew the person she was dealing with was affiliated with Iranian intelligence and that she acted on his behalf.

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