The Agent from Iran

How a mother of two ended up in a plot to smuggle high-tech gear to the enemy.

On May 18, 2004, Kargar sent a fax proving that $10,500, the cost of one pair of goggles, had been wired from the National Bank of Dubai to Alex's bank account. The fax was on letterhead from Seif's company, Noor-Al-Fath. The men planned to meet so that Alex could hand over a sample pair. If it was acceptable, they would arrange a bulk purchase. During telephone discussions about the deal, Kriske ensured that a tape recorder was always rolling. Faxes and e-mails were saved as evidence.

On October 15, 2004, Alex got a call from a woman identifying herself as Farideh Fahimi. She explained that Kargar was no longer working for Seif and that she would be taking over the project.

Fahimi told Alex: "Mr. Seif — he's the owner of this company, our company, okay? He is working inside the government of Iran, and he has a good connection, which Mr. Kargar doesn't." She discussed the order — for "different kind of cameras, and whatsoever I don't know, I'm not technical in this part." Later in the conversation, she casually said, "This kind of work, everyone has two or three different names."

Gholikhan (left) says her ex-husband was a manipulative and sadistic man.
Gholikhan (left) says her ex-husband was a manipulative and sadistic man.
Shahrzad Mir Gholikhan with ex-husband Mahmoud Seif.
Shahrzad Mir Gholikhan with ex-husband Mahmoud Seif.

On November 8, Fahimi called to say she had been out of the office for laser heart surgery and wanted to talk to Alex about the status of the deal. Agent Kriske took a message.

By November 24, Fahimi and Alex had scheduled a meeting in Austria. A fax, sent from the office of Twins Group, confirmed the details.

Agent Kriske sent ICE agents to Vienna, arranged plane tickets for himself and Alex, and coordinated with BVT, Austria's version of the FBI. He readied the paperwork necessary to transport one pair of night-vision goggles.


After their arrest in Austria, Gholikhan and Seif each pleaded guilty to one charge of trading defense articles without a license. It was the convenient thing to do, Gholikhan says now. Their punishment was a mere 28 days in prison and a small fine. The couple returned briefly to Dubai, but the United Arab Emirates deported them to Iran.

Between 2005 and 2007, U.S. agents tried to extradite Seif and Gholikhan to no avail. They sent out a "red notice" — an international arrest warrant — through Interpol, hoping the couple might be captured at borders.

So it was a surprise to almost everyone when, in December 2007, Shahrzad Mir Gholikhan popped up in Cyprus. Having heard the United States was looking for her, she called the U.S. Embassy, asked for a plane ticket, and voluntarily traveled to Miami. She sent her daughters, now 11 years old, to live with their grandparents in Iran. In her letter to New Times, she explained that she agreed to travel to Miami to clear her name. When she disembarked, five officers fingerprinted her and seized her passport and thousands of dollars in jewelry. She smoked two last cigarettes and was brought to the Federal Detention Center.

In spring 2008, the U.S. government offered Gholikhan a plea deal for time served. She accepted and pleaded guilty to one charge. Days later, at the sentencing hearing, the government said there had been a miscalculation. She would actually have to serve 29 months. Gholikhan balked and withdrew her plea. She would rather take her chances at trial on six charges: brokering the export of defense articles, exporting defense articles, attempting to export goods to Iran, and three related conspiracy charges.

At her first trial in September, she was represented by a court-appointed attorney and did not testify. The jury, unable to hear her voice and compare it to the one on Agent Kriske's recordings, could not agree on a verdict. A new trial was scheduled for December.

This time, Gholikhan chose to represent herself. She forsook regular clothes and appeared in front of the jury in her jail uniform: a set of khaki scrubs, white socks, and government-issued flip-flops.

The case would rest largely on the government's ability to convince a jury that Gholikhan was more than a translator — that she was "Farideh Fahimi" and had acted "willfully and knowingly."

When prosecutor Michael Walleisa introduced his main witness, Kriske, the two men laid out the evidence. They played the tapes so jurors could hear Fahimi's calls. They showed cell phone records linking Gholikhan's number to the time of those calls. Telephone and fax numbers used by Fahimi matched the numbers on Gholikhan's Twins Group business card. E-mails to Alex were signed Fahimi but sent from Gholikhan's e-mail. Some of the e-mails even mentioned heart problems.

On cross-examination, however, Gholikhan attacked.

"How can you prove this is my voice on those tapes?" she asked Kriske.

"I believe it is you."

"Are you a voice analysis expert?"

"No."'

"Mr. Seif was my husband!" she cried. "He had access to my company." He could have sent faxes from her machine; he could have logged onto her computer without her knowledge. He could have had another woman make calls from her office.

Gholikhan suggested that, if the meeting in Vienna had been taped, it would exonerate her. It would show her shock at learning the deal was illegal; it would show that Seif told her, in Persian, to shut up. It might even show the reason she never objected when Alex called her Fahimi — she noticed he had a firearm strapped to his ankle, a detail Kriske denied.

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