Longform

The Agent from Iran

Page 5 of 5

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.

Gholikhan's emotional yet convoluted story was a hard act to follow for prosecutor Michael Walleisa.

"It's normal to have sympathy for the items she has put before you," he said to the jury. "But this defendant is intelligent, resourceful, cunning, manipulative, deceitful, and independent. And she proved that with her own testimony." In closing arguments, Walleisa reviewed the evidence: The phone numbers all matched up. She admitted sending e-mails. And Farideh Fahimi kept mentioning she had a heart problem. The coincidences were too great to ignore. On the contrary, Gholikhan's wild tale of victimization was just that — a tale.

On the ninth day of trial, after a day and a half of deliberation, the federal jury made its call. It found Gholikhan guilty on three counts related to exporting weapons and not guilty on the three related conspiracy counts. Sentencing is set for March.

As she packed up her yellow legal pads and U.S. marshals led her away by the elbow, Gholikhan said she felt "the prejudice of the American nation." But it was okay. "I won't give up. I will appeal. God is here."

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Deirdra Funcheon