Longform

The Agent from Iran

Page 4 of 5

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.

"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?

"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.

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Deirdra Funcheon