Ali Sadr Hashemi Nejad’s defence lawyer Reid Weingarten gave his opening remarks on behalf of his client today at Ali Sadr’s trial for bank fraud and sanctions busting being held in the Manhattan courtroom of the Southern District of New York.

Mr Weingarten introduced Ali Sadr to the jury saying he was born in 1980 in Tehran, Iran. That was a year after the Iranian revolution when the American embassy was taken over by revolutionaries and embassy staff taken hostage. The defence attorney promised the jury they would get to know Ali Sadr better than most people in their life.

Many friends and family of Ali Sadr still live in Iran. His mother however lives in Washington DC and holds a doctorate. His sister is an architect living in Los Angeles.

Ali Sadr’s father is a prominent businessman who believed the former ruler of Iran – the Shah – was a fascist and supported the Islamic region “giving it the opportunity to govern”. At this point Judge Nathan over-ruled an objection from the prosecution but warned Mr Weingarten that “there are limits”.

Ali Sadr’s defence attorney explained that his client’s father soon turned against the Islamic government. “But they needed him and let him work”. His father was involved in major infrastructural projects and eventually expanded outside Iran conducting business in Yemen and Djibouti.

Ali Sadr’s father opened the first private bank in Iran employing 50 members of his own family. He was by now “at war” with his government. Another prosecutor’s objection was overruled at this point by the presiding judge. Continuing the prosecutor said the Iranian regime wanted Ali Sadr’s father’s business but they were still thugs.

Ali Sadr was a brilliant, pro-American student. He stayed back in Iran while the women and girls in his family moved to the United States. Eventually he set up his Turkey business called Stratus and started an investment company in Switzerland.

The Swiss company traded in commodities worldwide. The defence attorney pointed out that exceptions exist to rules about sanctions. A flood near destroyed a city in Venezuela and after 6 Iranian companies failed to do anything about, Ali Sadr’s father took on the project.

Ali Sadr helped his father with the project in spite of the fact that he had other plans for himself. Ali Sadr wanted to be a banker but out of love for his father he decided to repay the deby he owed to him. Both of them were keen to help poor people and decided to take on the Venezuela project hoping to get his father out of Iran in the process.

Mr Weingarten explained to the jury how sanctions against Iran came about. President Reagan banned imports from Iran and President Clinton banned exports to it. During the evil rule of Iranian President Ahmedinejad tighter sanctions were imposed. President Barrack Obama adopted a carrot and stick policy focusing on the wrong-doers and easing pressure elsewhere.

The judge instructed the jury to disregard this point after an objection from the prosecution.

After a second take by Mr Weingarten the judge asked counsel to approach the bench. Courtroom reporter Matthew Russel Lee explained the judge would have been giving instructions on the characterisations of US presidents and on the defence’s attempts to characterise Ali Sadr in political context.

After a long discussion with the judge, Mr Weingarten continued his opening remarks.  He explained that the sanctions against Iran are harsh hurting Iran’s economy and causing unintended consequence such as the reluctance of banks to handle business.

The defence attorney referred to a case of a French bank that “essentially financed” the atrocities perpetrated in the Darfur region of Sudan. That incident brought about tighter regulations on banks that make most of them think that it is too much trouble to deal with Iranians.

People did want to help Iranians after the recent earthquake there but the banks did not allow this to happen. Even Iranian students in American colleges could not hold bank accounts.

Mr Weingarten returned to his arguments about the Venezuela project saying that conducting that initiative was particularly difficult because Venezuela is known as the kidnapping capital of the world. The defence attorney claimed that once Ali Sadr’s father too over the Venezuela project no money went back to Iran. Indeed the Sayeds feared that if they sent any money to Iran, the Iranian government would grasp it. “The Ayotallah would take the money”.

The defence attorney told the jury they would be shown evidence that the construction company would send a bill to Venezuela. Eventually it would be paid through banks in Portugal and Spain in Europe. But the Venezuela account would use an American bank to clear the transactions.

Both sides used clearing accounts with US bank JP Morgan. “That’s it. That’s the story.” Mr Weingarten said that there had been no criminal intent and that the US government cannot prove there had been any. Every party who participated in the transaction thought it was fine and no money went to Iran.

Ali Sadr himself was not even a client of JP Morgan. He was under no obligation to disclose anything to them. And he had no intent to rip them off. “His heart was pure.” He sought to evade or avoid no sanctions. He did not want to be denied service by the bank just for being an Iranian. Even if the jury were to find that he technically was in breach of sanctions they would have to see that he was on the right side of things and had a pure heart. The present trial was not there to evaluate the wisdom of the sanctions themselves.

After the prosecutor’s objection the judge stopped Mr Weingarten during remarks where said he was confident the jury would not let hostility to any country impact their judgement. The judge said that was a point to be made at closing remarks not the opening of the trial.

Mr Weingarten concluded by saying that not for a nano-second did Ali Sadr want to violate US law.

This post is based on Matthew Russell Lee’s reporting of the trial for Inner City Press.