Dubai Man Arrested in Vancouver Is Wanted by FBI for Allegedly Aiding Iranian Airline Dodge US Sanctions

March 19, 2021 Updated: March 21, 2021

A Dubai man was detained in Vancouver for allegedly helping an Iranian airline evade U.S. sanctions, one month after the high-profile arrest of Huawei’s senior executive.

When Seyed Abood Sari arrived at Vancouver International Airport on Jan. 17, 2019, claiming to be on a trip to visit his sons, he was flagged and detained by border agents, Global News reported.

A Canadian official said at a hearing four days later that Sari, a citizen of Iran and resident of the United Arab Emirates, was under investigation for allegedly aiding a U.S.-sanctioned Iranian airline that provided services to terrorist organizations.

The Tehran-based Mahan Air was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department in 2011 for providing “transportation, funds transfers, and personnel travel services” for the Quds Force branch of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard (IRGC-QF).

Mahan Air is also on Canada’s sanctions list.

Once confirmed that Sari was wanted by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police arrested him for being the general manager of Mahan Air’s Dubai office, an allegation he has denied.

“Mr. Sari is sought for extradition on the basis that he made misrepresentations to U.S. financial institutions to cause them to unwittingly conduct international U.S. dollar transfers on behalf of Mahan Air,” the B.C. Supreme Court said, according to Global News.

A court hearing for Sari’s extradition is scheduled to begin in the B.C. Supreme Court on April 14.

“Mr. Sari is being afforded a fair process before the British Columbia Supreme Court in accordance with extradition law and our treaty with the United States,” said Ian McLeod, spokesperson for the Canadian Justice Department.

Defence lawyer Michael Bolton told Global News that said his client was “contesting whether there is any basis for the U.S. extradition request.”

Money Laundering via Front Companies

U.S. charges alleged that Mahan Air routed its international payments through front companies to evade sanctions.

“Mahan Air’s international payments were made using other companies established in the UAE, Turkey, Russia and elsewhere that had no apparent connection to Mahan Air, to fraudulently conceal from banks the fact that the payments violated the sanctions and the banks’ compliance policies,” according to a RCMP affidavit cited by the court.

A 2016 FBI probe into email accounts found evidence that Sari was “directly involved” in some of those transactions, and an arrest warrant was issued in 2018, Global News reported.

“Business and financial records sent to or from email accounts used by Mr. Sari and other Mahan Air officers show that a major responsibility of the Mahan Air’s Dubai Office is to make international payments to Mahan Air’s suppliers and service providers,” the affidavit stated.

While being questioned in Vancouver, Sari told Canadian officials that he knew about the sanctions, but “did not care what they were doing,” because he “needed the money,” the Canadian official testified at his detention hearing.

Sari said at his detention hearing on Jan. 21, 2019, that he was never employed by Mahan Air, but instead worked for Jahan Destinations Travel and Tourism, which was a Dubai company that served as the “general sales agency” for Mahan Airlines, according to the Canadian official.

Sari said he had conducted only “limited functions” at the Dubai airport on behalf of Mahan Air and did not play a principal role in the banking transactions in question.

Jahan Destinations was added to the U.S. Treasury sanction list in December 2019 for its alleged ties to Mahan Air.

Mahan Air has played an “integral role” in supporting the Quds Force, and even provided transportation for its former commander, Qassem Soleimani, according to the U.S. Treasury.

Soleimani was killed in a U.S. airstrike in Iraq on Jan. 3, 2020.

While Sari’s case has largely escaped headlines, it’s similar in a number of ways to Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou’s arrest at a Vancouver airport a month earlier.

Like Meng, Sari has alleged that the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) had questioned him and searched his electronic devices in an attempt “to assist with the gathering of evidence” of the U.S. charges, which he claimed was an “abuse of process.”

In January, Sari asked the B.C. Supreme Court for copies of documents held by Canadian authorities, claiming that they could prove the evidence against him was unreliable.

The judge granted his request for documents.

Sari was released on bail in July 2019.