ATLANTA -- After an Iranian scientist was released over the weekend as part of a prisoner exchange, federal prosecutors on Wednesday dismissed charges against two of his former students who were accused along with him of violating trade sanctions.
Iranian officials on Saturday handed over Chinese-American graduate student Xiyue Wang, who had been held on widely criticized espionage charges, in exchange for Iranian scientist Masoud Soleimani.
Soleimani had faced federal charges in Georgia accusing him of violating sanctions by trying to have biological material brought from the U.S. to Iran.
A federal judge in Atlanta on Wednesday approved a request by federal prosecutors to dismiss an indictment against Iranian-born researchers Mahboobe Ghaedi and Maryam Jazayeri. The one-paragraph motion said the charges against the two women were being dismissed “in the interest of justice.”
Both women live in the U.S. and were former students of Soleimani, who works in stem cell research, hematology and regenerative medicine. Soleimani's lawyers had argued that he was trying to take advantage of a former student's trip home to Iran in 2016 to obtain recombinant proteins for a fraction of the price he would pay in Iran.
He had reached out to Ghaedi, a permanent U.S. resident, about getting the proteins, according to court filings. Ghaedi ordered them from U.S. companies and sent them to Jazayeri, who had agreed to bring them to Soleimani when she traveled to Iran to visit family.
Jazayeri, a U.S. citizen, was detained and questioned at the Atlanta airport on Sept. 6, 2016. Customs officials searched her luggage and took the vials of recombinant proteins before allowing her to board her flight, court filings say.
Federal prosecutors obtained an indictment in June 2018 and filed it under seal, explaining in a court filing that Soleimani lived in Iran but planned to visit the U.S. soon and might cancel his plans if he learned of the charges before his trip. Government officials then revoked his visa and arrested him in October 2018 when he landed in Chicago en route to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, where he was to do research as a visiting scholar.
Federal prosecutors alleged that the attempted transport of biological materials was a violation of sanctions meant to isolate Iran from trade with the U.S.
Lawyers for the three scientists had said their clients did nothing wrong because the proteins are medical materials and that bringing them to Iran for noncommercial purposes doesn't amount to exporting goods.
In a court filing Saturday, prosecutors notified the judge they were dismissing the charges against Soleimani “based on significant foreign policy interests of the United States.”