The Government of France has released Jabal Rohallahnejad, an Iranian engineer previously ordered extradited to the US to face a major sanctions evasion indictment, in a prisoner swap for a French academic held in Iran on espionage charges. This action could have a serious effect upon the relationship between France and the United States, given the importance which the United States attached to the Rohallahenjad extradition.
Rohallahnejad is an engineer whose specialty is fiber optics; he spent ten years studying and working in China, and there are several research papers available on the Internet written by him in the field. He was arrested by French authorities upon arrival in Nice a year ago; he alleged that he was to meet a local company regarding a groundwater project in the Persian Gulf. A request was filed by the United States, for his extradition, based upon a pending criminal indictment in Case No.: 19-cr-00073, in US District Court for the District of Columbia.
In truth and in fact, he is an employee of Aerospace Industries Organization of Iran, and he had been seeking parts for industrial microwave and anti-drone systems which, with modifications, could be used for making "ultra-precise weapons", meaning anti-missile systems and systems that could take control of drones. Iran seeks Western counter-drone technology for the purpose of intercepting US drones in the field.
|Aerospace Industries Organization of Iran|
Rohallahnejad sought to export sensitive high-powered American technology to Iran, for military use. at a cost of €900,000, between June 2016 and April 2018. His client was RAYAN ROSHD AFZAR COMPANY, an OFAC-sanctioned state-owned Iranian entity that manufactures components for the drone program of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). He had arrived in France, via Moscow, on the authority of a work visa that he had obtained.
|Rayan Roshd Afzar|
The purported destination of the equipment was the United Arab Emirates. The UAE and Turkey are known to be transshipment hubs and staging grounds for Iranian front companies and smuggling networks seeking Western counter-drone technology. It has been alleged that Rohallahnejad planned to use a Chinese alias as part of the deception.
The five-count indictment pending against the defendant carries with it a maximum sentence of sixty years in Federal Prison. La Cour de Cassation (Court of Cassation), the appellate court of last resort in France, ordered extradition on March 11, 2020; the 1996 Bilateral Treaty between France and the US requires that the Prime Minister must approve all extraditions.
In what many are referring to as a "prisoner exchange," France sent Rohallahenejad to Iran, and Iran simultaneously released a French academic who had been in custody on espionage charges, deemed political by France. Whether this case has damaged Franco-American relations remains to be seen.