Iranian woman arrested in Australia pleads guilty to conspiracy in US

Plea agreement means Negar Ghodskani, whom Iran offered to swap for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, faces five years’ jail and $369,000 fine

An Iranian mother at the centre of a legal and political tussle between Australia, Britain, the US and Iran has pleaded guilty in a Minneapolis court to being part of a conspiracy to evade US sanctions and “illegally export controlled technology”.

Negar Ghodskani, 40, was pregnant when arrested on a US warrant in Australia in 2017.

She gave birth to a boy in custody in Adelaide, South Australia, while fighting extradition to the United States.

She faces a maximum of five years in a US federal prison and a A$369,000 (US$250,000) fine after signing a plea agreement with American prosecutors, but her lawyer will ask for a time-served sentence.

Her attorney, Robert Richman, said she accepted the plea agreement “because she wanted to accept responsibility and be sentenced”.

Ghodskani arrived in the US last month. Richman said the long legal fight had taken its toll so she had decided to stop resisting extradition.

“The parties have not reached an agreement as to a recommended sentence, and each party is free to argue for any sentence it deems appropriate,” the plea agreement filed in the US district court on Friday said.

Ghodskani was based in Tehran as an employee of Fana Moj, a communications company whose principal customer was the Iran government’s Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting radio and TV network.

The court heard that in 2009 she helped established a “front company”, Green Wave Telecommunication, in Malaysia and falsely represented herself to US companies to acquire export-controlled technology.

“To defendant’s knowledge, in nearly all cases, the purchased goods would be delivered to Green Wave’s office in Malaysia but then re-shipped to Iran,” the plea agreement said.

Ghodskani moved to Australia with her husband on a skilled migration visa in 2012.

Her attempts to apply for bail after her arrest in Adelaide failed, forcing her to be separated from her newborn baby.

The Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, raised the political stakes during a visit to New York in April by proposing a prison swap involving Ghodskani for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian mother detained in Tehran.

“Nobody talks about this lady in Australia who gave birth to a child in prison, whose child is growing up outside prison with the mother in prison,” Zarf said at an Asia Society event in Manhattan.

“I put this offer on the table publicly now: exchange them.”

Ghodskani asked in the plea agreement to be sent back to Iran after she completes her sentence.

• Australian Associated Press and Associated Press contributed to this report

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