(Los Angeles, CA) - The FBI arrested 7 membersof the People's Mujahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI) at Los AngelesInternational airport on Feb. 28, on charges of illegal fund-raisingfor a terrorist organization. The PMOI, also known as the Mujahedin-eKhalq (MEK), was using a fake human rights organization as a frontfor funding military activities in Iraq. According to FBI witnessesinside the fund-raising network, all the money raised forunsuspecting travelers and from Iranian-Americans was shipped toTurkey and the United Arab Emirates to buy military equipment for thegroup's National Liberal Army, based in Iraq.
Visitors to LAX have long been familiar withthe Mujahedin's fund-raising activities. Iranians, mostly womenwearing Islamic Republic-style head scarves, approach unsuspectingtravelers in pairs and claim they are raising money to help Iranianchildren and victims of torture, then spread out glossy books withgraphic pictures of torture victims.
In a 120 page affidavit, FBI Special AgentChristopher E. Castillo detailed his contacts with a confidentialinformant who had been lured into the MEK fund-raising scheme. Theinformant recorded numerous conversations with the ring-leader,identified by the FBI as 39-year old Tahmineh Tahamtan, in which shedetailed how moneys were raised from travelers and fromIranian-Americans.
The informant accompanied Tahamtan and othermembers of the cell on trips around the Los Angeles and Orange Countyareas to solicit large donations from Iranian-Americans whosympathized with the MEK, according to the affidavit. The FBI seizedtraining materials for the airport fund-raisers, as well asmotivational videos that portrayed the activities of the self-styled"National Liberation Army" in Iraq.
The three-year FBI investigation was triggeredby a Jun 12, 1997 cable from the FBI Legal Attaché in Bonn,Germany to the Los Angeles field office, "indicating that the GermanFederal Criminal Police (BKA) were conducting a money launderinginvestigation of MEK members involved in fundraising," the affidavitstates. "The BKA uncovered large sums of money being sent to Germanyfrom various individuals in the U.S., some of which were in the LosAngeles area."
At about the same time, the affidavit states,the local CBS affiliate in Los Angeles aired an investigative newsreport on the alleged illegal fund-raising activities, that includedfootage of known MEK operatives working travelers at LAX. Theinvestigation kicked into high gear once the State Departmentofficially designated the MEK and its affiliates as terroristorganizations in October 1997.
In February 1998, the affidavit states that theFBI seized banking records from a Bank of America account belongingto the Committee for Human Rights in Iran (CHR), a front organizationused by the MEK to disguise its fund-raising activities on behalf ofthe group's military wing in Iraq.
The Los Angeles-based CHR was registered as anon-profit educational group that provided "financial assistance forrefugees... [and] to victims of persecution currentlyresiding in the United States." The affidavit states, to thecontrary, that the CHR was used as a front for collecting money thatwas transferred out of the country to bank accounts used by the MEKfor its military activities.
Three corporate officers listed by the CHR onits tax returns - Fahimeh Azarani, Majid Lashkari, and EskandarEskancari - were not arrested but were cited repeatedly in theaffidavit
Lashkari, who gave his employer as LotharImport of Ventura, California, and Azarani rented apartments onbehalf of the MEK which were used as its "kanoon," or cellheadquarters.
Those arrested were identified as TahminehTahamtan, Mustafa Ahmady, Hossein Afshari, Ali Reza Moradi, HassanRezai, Najaf Eshkoftegi, and Mohammad Omidvar, all of LosAngeles.
At one point, Tahamtan drove to Orange,California to solicit a $12,000 donation from Omidvar, identified asa "long time financial supporter of the MEK and the NLA.". In atape-recorded conversation on the premises of his business, PrestigeJewelry, Tahamtan also pressed him to lean on other MEK supporters tomake large donations. Omidvar joked: "Kazem Rajavi, may God forgivehim, said, You give one finger of yours to the Mujahedin and theywill take your shoulder off."
The affidavit also detailed harsh anti-Americancomments made by the MEK's foreign affairs spokesman, MohammadMohadesin, in a conference call from Iraq with cell members on March26, 2000. Mohadesin is frequently portrayed in the press aspro-American and pro-Western, but in talking with MEK supportersaccused the United States of giving satellite surveillance footage ofthe group's bases in Iraq to the Iranian government.
MEK opposition to U.S. policy on Iraq appearedat several places in the 120 page affidavit, but most forcefully atthe end, suggesting that the FBI may have chosen to act to preventimminent terrorist acts in the United States.
Within hours of the Feb. 16 U.S.-British airstrikes against Iraq, two of the arrested MEK members "talked aboutretaliation against the U.S. from Iraqi terrorists who they indicatedwere most likely already in the U.S.," the affidavitstates.
An April 30, 1998 Fact sheet on the MEKdistributed by the FBI to all FBI field offices around the UnitedStates detailed the group's anti-American activities. "At the timethe organization was founded, the goal was to overthrow themonarchist rule of the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi," theaffidavit states. "During the struggle to overthrow the Shah of Iranas well as after the Shah's overthrow, the MEK publicly claimedresponsibility for acts of terrorism against U.S. citizens, U.S.interests and other acts of terrorism." The affidavit cites theassassination of U.S. military officers in Iran, and noted that thegroup took part in the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran inNovember 1979, along with other pro-Khomeini forces.
The Foundation for Democracy in Iran isa private, non-profit corporation registered in the State ofMaryland. Contact: Kenneth R. Timmerman, Executive Director(firstname.lastname@example.org).FDI materials are available free-of-charge via the Internet athttp://www.iran.org/.