An excellent and detailed article in the Houston Press, an alternative weekly news magazine and website, ponders the reason that a Texas millionaire, Bahram Mechanic, was on Iran’s prisoner swap list and received, as part of the prisoner swap negotiated with the nuclear deal, a pre-trial pardon of export charges that had been filed against him. This blog had previously written about the indictment against Mechanic which incorrectly accused him, at least for certain (but not all) of the charged exports, of not having a BIS license that he didn’t need. Nine months later, in January 2015, Mechanic walked out of the federal detention center where he was being held without bond pending trial. Like the other Iranian prisoners swapped in the deal, none of whom actually returned to Iran, Mechanic re-ensconced himself in a $2 million condo atop the forty story Four Leaf Towers in Houston and had the crab dinner he complained he had been craving ever since he became the involuntary guest of federal taxpayers.
The author of the article candidly admits that he has no idea why the Iranians were interested in freeing Mechanic. But he does supply a number of curious details about the case. First, Mechanic was denied bail, at least in part, because they found 156 grams of cocaine, 4 kilos of an opium derivative, multiple passports and $100,000 in cash in multiple currencies in a safe in his home. The drug possession charges were later dropped without explanation.
Second, it appears that his defense was going to be a version of the dog that didn’t bark in the night. Apparently, back in 1997, Mechanic had a lawyer at a small trade firm in Houston send a letter asking the Office of Foreign Assets Control if his ownership interest in, and business relationship with, Faratel, a company in Iran, posed any problems. (Ya think?) Not hearing anything (ever) back from OFAC, Mechanic and his lawyers saw this as a green light to continuing shipping things to Faratel in Iran. This is a bit odd since he was indicted at about the same time as the letter to OFAC for transshipping items through Taiwan to Faratel in Iran. Although those criminal charges were dropped, he ultimately paid OFAC a $100,000 fine to settle civil penalty charges OFAC brought arising out of those shipments.
Mechanic’s lawyer suggested to the author of the Houston Press article that the government’s case was meritless, using a familiar term sometimes used to describe bovine excrement. He speculates that the government fabricated the case against Mechanic as “trade bait” for the Iranians. At other times in the article, Mechanic’s lawyer somewhat inconsistently concedes that Mechanic may have done the things he was accused of doing but didn’t know that it was wrong, apparently because the 1997 letter never got an answer (other than, of course, the $100,000 fine).
None of this does anything but deepen the mystery as to why anyone in Tehran would give two cents, much less three American prisoners, to spring Mechanic from jail so he could return to his luxury condo in Houston and catch up on all the crab dinners he missed while in jail.