Negar Ghodskani, 40, was arrested in Australia in 2017 accused of smuggling banned technology to Iran and is now in the US where she faces five years behind bars
An Iranian woman who is facing five years in jail in the US has emerged as the most likely candidate for a prisoner-swap with Tehran after it seized a British-Australian blogger and an academic.
Negar Ghodskani, 40, was arrested in Australia in 2017 and is now in America where she is facing a five-year sentence for smuggling prohibited technology.
Ghodskani, who has pleaded guilty to the conspiracy in the hopes of a reduced sentence, has been in jail since her arrest and gave birth while in custody.
Iran previously demanded her release in return for the freedom of British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is serving a five-year sentence for espionage. Britain refused the deal.
Now, it is thought the country will demand her release again – this time for the freedom of Jolie King, a blogger with joint British-Australian citizenship who is currently locked in the same jail as Mrs Ratcliffe.
Miss King was on a round-the-world road trip with boyfriend Mark Firkin when she was arrested near Tehran, reportedly for flying a drone without permission.
The pair had given up their lives in Perth, Western Australia, in 2017 in order to drive around the world – a trip which brought them to Iran in July this year.
Mr Firkin is Australian but it is thought Miss King’s father Mike was born in Essex before moving there aged three, which is where she gets her joint citizenship from.
The regime may also try to bargain with a second British-Australian, an academic who has not been identified, who is in the same jail, sources told The Times.
Ghodskani is accused – alongside co-conspirators – of establishing a front company in Malaysia to illegally obtain restricted technology from companies in Minnesota and Massachusetts and ship it to Iran in violation of international sanctions.
It is thought Tehran will try to use British-Australian blogger Jolie King, who was arrested near Tehran 10 weeks ago, as a bargaining chip in order to secure Ghodskani’s release
Iran previously tried to swap British-Iranian mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (pictured), who has been locked up in Tehran since 2016, to secure Ghodskani’s freedom
She was indicted in 2015 in Minnesota and arrested in Australia in 2017, where she became the subject of a long extradition fight which ended in August this year.
She pleaded guilty on August 9 as part of a deal that attorney Robert Richman said she took ‘because she wants to accept responsibility and be sentenced.’
Richman indicated the toll of the long legal fight was why she decided to stop resisting extradition.
Under the plea agreement, Ghodskani agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the US, which carries a maximum potential sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The plea agreement does not include a sentencing recommendation, but the nonbinding federal sentencing guidelines suggest a sentence of 46 to 57 months and a fine up to $200,000.
‘We intend to ask the judge to sentence her to time served,’ Richman said. ‘She has already been in custody for over two years.
‘By the time she gets sentenced it will be two and a half years in custody. She had a baby while she was in custody. She has gone through a huge amount.
Miss King and Mrs Ratcliffe are now locked up in Nevin jail, in Tehran, which is used for political prisoners. It is thought a second British-Australian, an academic, is also detained there
Miss King was arrested in Tehran alongside Australian boyfriend Mark Firkin in early July (pictured together in Pakistan, around a month before they were detained)
‘We believe the appropriate disposition is to release her and send her on her way back to Iran.’
A co-defendant, Alireza Jalali, pleaded guilty in November 2017. The judge sentenced him in March 2018 to 15 months in prison, court records show.
According to the indictment and the plea agreement, Ghodskani worked for Iran-based company Fanavar Moj Khava, also known as Fana Moj, which specializes in broadcast and microwave communications equipment.
The firm supplies microwave radio systems and wireless broadband service in Iran and its principal customer is the government-owned Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting company.
Prosecutors said Ghodskani, Jalali and others established Green Wave Telecommunication in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, as a front for buying restricted equipment and unlawfully reshipping it to Fana Moj in Tehran.
The Treasury Department put Fana Moj on a list of banned companies in 2017, accusing it of providing support to the powerful Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
The 2015 indictment did not name the Minnesota or Massachusetts companies involved, but said the circuits that the conspirators bought from them in 2011 included analog-to-digital converters and frequency synthesizers.