The Agent from Iran

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

"How is it possible you did not record the meeting in Vienna?" Gholikhan pressed.

"At the time, I believed it was recorded. Did I check to see that the equipment was functioning? That someone pressed record? I requested assistance from the Austrians to provide the evidence. I couldn't demand it. I could only ask for it." Later, Kriske contradicted himself, saying he didn't record the meeting because it would have been illegal under Austrian law.

Why, Gholikhan asked, hadn't he simply arranged to extradite her from Austria once her case there was closed?

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.

"My understanding was that it was a nonextraditable offense."

She chided him for not checking that detail beforehand.

Then Gholikhan marched up to the stand and asked him to flip through her passport. It showed that, after being released from Austria, she had been to Holland multiple times and had even flown to China. If an arrest warrant had been issued for her through Interpol, she wondered, "How is it that I have traveled at least six times to Europe and I was never detained or arrested?"

"I don't know," Kriske answered tersely, not inspiring much confidence in the international police system, "and I would like to find out."

"In the end, did you get Mr. Seif here?"

"No."

"Do you know what is Mr. Seif's position in Iran?"

"No. I'd like to."

Gholikhan suggested she was merely a consolation prize for feds who had failed to rope in the actual bad guys. "You can't find the guilty one," she taunted. "You want the conviction and to close the case. The way Mr. Seif played this game, he won it. He's enjoying life, changing his identity, traveling with a new passport. It's not my job to go get him. You wanted him? Go. I just want to live in Cyprus with my children. I don't want to be involved in politics."

She hinted to Kriske that, unbeknownst to him, Kargar had been in the lobby of the hotel on the fateful day in Austria, right under his nose. She mocked the government's faith in its end-user certificates.

If she were guilty, Gholikhan pressed, why would she voluntarily get on a plane and travel to America to face charges? Why would she act as her own attorney and allow the jury to hear her voice? She waved her arms and ranted, "Is it normal to say, 'Hey, look! You cannot extradite me, you cannot arrest me, you cannot get me — but here I am! Arrest me! Take me to court; give me some time to serve in your prison!'?"

"This is unusual," Kriske replied.


More unusual was the tale Gholikhan told when she took the stand. It became a bizarre recounting that painted Seif as a sadistic and unimaginably powerful man. He manipulated her over and over again, she explained, enabled by Islamic law.

Shortly after her marriage to Seif in 2000, Gholikhan said, she discovered he had another wife. That woman threatened Gholikhan with a gun, but Gholikhan calmed her down and suggested they confront Seif together. When they did, he promised to divorce Gholikhan and set her free. Two days later, however, he said he would divorce the other woman instead.

During a trip to Iran in 2002, she testified, she secretly trailed Seif after work and saw him go home with one of his employees — another secret wife. Infuriated, Gholikhan tried leaving for Dubai. Seif had her arrested at the airport. "Your husband complained against you," authorities told her.

"That was the day I realized Mr. Seif's power," she testified. "My father is wealthy, rich, has friends — but he can never do something like that." Finally, Gholikhan told the jury, Seif granted her a divorce.

The problem with being unmarried, she testified, was that she needed a husband's permission to travel back to Dubai. To get the necessary papers, she arranged a sham marriage to another man, who also abused her. She said she escaped him by jumping from the balcony of his 12th-floor apartment over to the balcony of an adjacent building, where a stranger loaned her a head-to-toe covering, called an abaya, and a car. She raced to the Ministry of Justice, had the man arrested, and was granted a divorce. When she left the building, Seif was waiting for her across the street. "He said, 'Look, you cannot ever fight against me. I never tried to beat you.'"

Their relationship remained tumultuous. In September 2003, she said, Seif raped her and she became pregnant. On her way to get an abortion on the black market, she had a car accident and miscarried. "The doctor took me into the surgery and said the baby was gone. Thank God."

By 2004, Gholikhan testified, she was tired and saw the benefit of submitting to him. She decided to give in and "be a real Muslim. Shut my mouth and keep quiet. To save my life and my children's life. Forget about independence and living in Dubai. Just be a slave in his home." They arranged to remarry.

To celebrate, Seif proposed they honeymoon in Vienna. He had a business meeting there anyway. He said he had to pick up a pair of binoculars. He would need her to translate.

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