NY lawyer argues U.S.-educated man from Iran obeyed laws in moving family wealth to America

NEW YORK (AP) — A lawyer told a jury Thursday that it should acquit an Ivy League-educated man from Iran on charges that he violated the Iran trade embargo as his family sent him $3.4 million.

The lawyer, Tai Hyun Park, said Mahmoud Reza Banki had the "state of mind of an innocent man" as he patiently submitted to repeated interviews by federal officials investigating his money transfers over an eight-year period. He called the arrest of his client a "misguided prosecution fraught with grievous error."

As he spoke, his client nodded in agreement.

Park's closing arguments were countered by Assistant U.S. Attorney Anirudh Bansal, who said Banki's failure to change his banking habits as the government questioned him about them was consistent with the actions of a criminal.

Bansal said it was impossible that an "intelligent, educated and financially sophisticated person" such as Banki would not know that he was a vital piece in an informal money transfer business in South Asia known as a hawala. Such a person, Bansal said, "would have to know money is going back to Iran."

Hawalas rely on wire transfers, couriers and overnight mail and often are cheaper and quicker than banks. Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, authorities have worked to dismantle the system, fearing it allows terrorists to raise and launder money. Authorities investigating a failed car bombing in Times Square last month have tried to determine whether the main suspect in that case received funding channeled through a hawala.

Banki, a 33-year-old U.S. citizen who has been held without bail since his January arrest, faces up to 25 years in prison if he is convicted on charges that he operated an illegal money transfer business.

He has maintained through his lawyers that he knew only that he was receiving money from relatives in Iran who wanted to ensure the family fortune was protected from his father, who was divorced from his mother.

The mother testified on his behalf, and Park mentioned her during his closing, urging the jury to restore Banki's faith that doing the right thing is rewarded, not punished.

"Reza Banki just does the right thing," Park said. "Do what you're supposed to do to get good grades. Do what you're supposed to do to protect your mother."

At that point, Banki cried briefly, wiping tears from his eyes.

The jury was expected to begin deliberations Friday on charges that Banki conspired to violate the Iran trade embargo and operated an unlicensed money transmitting business. The embargo, initiated in 1995, prohibits U.S. citizens from supplying goods, services or technology to Iran or its government.

After arriving in the United States 16 years ago, Banki attended Purdue University and the University of California at Berkeley before getting a doctorate in chemical engineering from Princeton University. Before he was arrested, he worked for McKinsey & Co., a management consulting firm.