Iranian mum at centre of prisoner swap calls to learn sentence

Negar Ghodskani in a picture provided by the Sherburne County Sheriff’s Office.Credit:AP

Los Angeles: The case of former Adelaide cleaner Negar Ghodskani that began in Iran 11 years ago, moved to Malaysia, then Australia, will take a consequential turn this week when she is sentenced in a US courtroom.

Was Ghodskani a threat to American security by being an active participant in Iran's attempts to thwart US government sanctions aimed at punishing the regime for its nuclear program, and support of international terrorism?

Or was the 40-year-old a minor player who deserves to be released from custody after more than two years in Australian and US jails, and enduring the heartbreak of giving birth in an Adelaide hospital and being forced to hand over her newborn son.

Adding to the high-stakes nature of the case, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has been vocal on the world stage calling for Ghodskani to be released in a prisoner swap.

There have also been reports Iran is interested in swapping Ghodskani for Australian backpackers Jolie King and Mark Firkin who are being held at Iran's notorious Evin prison. Another Australian, Melbourne University academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert is also being detained by Iran.

"The seriousness of the defendant's crime warrants a sentence that would deter others from undermining US foreign policy and national security interests by flouting export restrictions and sanctions regimes such as those against Iran," US prosecutors told US District Court Judge Joan Ericksen ahead of Tuesday's sentencing in Minneapolis.

Prosecutors recommend Ghodskani serve a prison sentence "at or near" the US Probation Office's guideline range of 46 to 57 months.

She gave him to me, she wasn't crying but I can not explain about the sound she has made at that time.

Ghodskani's lawyer Robert Richman is calling for a 27-month sentence, matching the time she has spent behind bars since Australian Federal Police appeared at her "modest" Adelaide home in 2017.

Ghodskani was pregnant at the time, gave birth to her son Nickan in custody five months later, spent three days in hospital under guard with her newborn before having to hand him to her husband Ali Lotfisetan and return to the Adelaide jail.

"She brought the baby out of the room with the officers around her and they said time to go," Mr Lotfisetan wrote in an emotional letter to the judge.

"She gave him to me, she wasn't crying but I can not explain about the sound she has made at that time.

"It was so sad.

"Everybody like the nurses and cleaners were crying except officers."

Ghodskani, after her extradition from Adelaide to the US in July, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the US.

Australian travel bloggers Mark Firkin and Jolie Kingare being detained in Iran.Credit:Instagram

It carries a statutory maximum sentence of five years' prison.

Ghodskani's path to prison began in Iran in 2008 when she was hired by Iranian telecommunications manufacturer Fana Moj, whose principal customer was the government owned Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting radio and TV network.

Her US lawyer described Ghodskani as "little more than a procurement manager, sourcing electronic components needed by her employer for the broadcasting equipment it manufactured".

Her job included buying from the US, despite American sanctions banning businesses with Iran.

In 2009 Ghodskani moved to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to work at Fana Moj front company Green Wave Telecommunication, where she helped buy US and other nations' products and thwart international sanctions.

Ghodskani quit her job in Malaysia in 2012 and moved to Australia with her husband after she successfully applied for a skilled worker visa.

She and her husband, a former Iranian sports journalist, worked any job they could find in Australia, including at McDonald's, cleaning homes and eventually bought their own house-cleaning franchise.

Her conviction led to her husband losing his immigration status and he has been forced, with their son, to move back to Iran.

Ghodskani will be deported to Iran when she completes her US sentence.

"She has lost her job and her cleaning franchise," her lawyer wrote.

"She has lost her adopted country and will be forced to return to the repressive regime in Iran.

"And her own son does not know who she is."


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