Attorney for man accused of helping Iran launch its first satellite says case is based on fear

GREENBELT, Md. – An attorney for an Iranian-American man accused of illegally helping Iran launch its first satellite urged jurors Wednesday during closing arguments not to let fear cloud their judgment in the case.

Nader Modanlo is accused of brokering a deal to help Iran launch an earth observation satellite from Russia in 2005. The launch marked the practical beginning of Iran’s space program after decades of aspirations. Prosecutors say Modanlo, a Maryland resident, violated a United States trade embargo against Iran by helping the country and that he was paid $10 million for his assistance.

But defence attorney Lucius Outlaw told jurors in federal court in Greenbelt that the government’s case was filled with holes. He acknowledged what he said was the “elephant in the room,” that the governments of the United States and Iran are not friends and have different worldviews and that Americans view Iran with suspicion. But he said prosecutors were counting on jurors’ fears and hoping “fear will fill in the great big gaping holes in their theory and story.” He urged jurors not to let that happen.

“So much of the government’s case doesn’t add up,” Outlaw said at the conclusion of the trial, which began in late April.

Outlaw said that Iran didn’t need a middleman to get help from Russia and that the two countries could talk directly. Moreover, he said it didn’t make sense to pay a middleman they didn’t need, and especially not $10 million. Modanlo did get a legal $10 million loan, he said.

But prosecutor Stuart Berman offered a different view of the evidence in his closing argument. He said Modanlo defied the U.S. trade embargo because he was bankrupt and needed money. Berman said Modanlo “thought he could make his conduct undetectable” and that it “took a long time, but he got caught.” He traced for the jury Modanlo’s conduct, including what he said were trips to Russia, documents written with code words and Iranian money sent to Modanlo through a Swiss front company. He called the case a “jigsaw puzzle” and urged the jury to put the pieces together. Another prosecutor, David Salem, denied that the case was “about fear.”

Modanlo was born in Iran and moved to the United States to attend George Washington University. He later became a U.S. citizen. In the early 1990s, he and a partner created a Maryland company that worked with the Russian government to launch telecommunications satellites. The company, Final Analysis Inc., went into bankruptcy in 2001.

Prosecutors say that after his company failed, Modanlo agreed to help Iran’s space program, violating a trade embargo the United States has had against the country since 1995. The embargo prohibits Americans from supplying goods, technology or services to Iran.

Prosecutors say Modanlo acted as a middleman in brokering an agreement between Iran and POLYOT, an aerospace enterprise owned by the Russian government. Prosecutors say the agreement resulted in the 2005 launch from Russia of an Iranian satellite, Sina-1.

The launch came a day after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, then newly elected, said Israel must be “wiped off the map.” To many, the launch seemed to back up this threat.

Jurors will begin their first full day of deliberations Thursday. Modanlo faces decades in prison if convicted of all 11 charges against him.


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