US charges political scientist for acting as unregistered agent of Iranian government

A political scientist has been charged with acting and conspiring to act as an unregistered agent of the Iranian government.

A criminal complaint charging Kaveh Lotfolah Afrasiabi, also known as Lotfolah Kaveh Afrasiabi, was unsealed on Tuesday. He was arrested a day earlier, on Monday, at his home in Watertown, Mass.

“For over a decade, Kaveh Afrasiabi pitched himself to U.S Congress, journalists and the American public as a neutral and objective expert on Iran,” said U.S. Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers.

“However, all the while, Afrasiabi was actually a secret employee of the Government of Iran and the Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations (IMUN) who was being paid to spread their propaganda,” he said. “In doing so, he intentionally avoided registering with the [U.S.] Department of Justice as the Foreign Agents Registration Act required. He likewise evaded his obligation to disclose who was sponsoring his views.”

The Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA, requires entities and individuals considered to work on behalf of a foreign government to register with the DOJ, thereby requiring these entities and individuals to disclose their funding and relationship with any foreign government. The DOJ publishes this information online.

Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Seth DuCharme said, “Afrasiabi allegedly sought to influence the American public and American policymakers for the benefit of his employer, the Iranian government, by disguising propaganda as objective policy analysis and expertise.”

Afrasiabi is an Iranian citizen and a lawful permanent resident of the United States. He holds a Ph.D., and frequently publishes books and articles, and appears on English-language television programs discussing foreign relations matters, particularly Iran’s relations with the United States. Afrasiabi has identified or portrayed himself as a political scientist, a former political science professor or as an expert on foreign affairs, according to the complaint.

Since at least 2007, he has also been secretly employed by the Iranian government and paid by Iranian diplomats assigned to IMUN, according to the DOJ.

Afrasiabi has been paid approximately $265,000 in checks drawn on the IMUN’s official bank accounts since 2007 and has received health insurance through the IMUN’s employee health benefit plans since at least 2011, say federal prosecutors.

In the course of his employment by the Iranian government, Afrasiabi has lobbied a U.S. congressman and the U.S. Department of State to advocate for policies favorable to Iran, counseled Iranian diplomats concerning U.S. foreign policy, made television appearances to advocate for the Iranian government’s views on world events, and written articles and opinion pieces espousing the Iranian government’s position on various matters of foreign policy, according to the DOJ, which did not name the congressman.

If convicted, Afrasiabi faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

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