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Owner of NH business admits smuggling machinery to Iran

A gavel cracks down. (Airman 1st Class Aspen Reid/U.S. Air Force)

The owner of a New Hampshire-based export business pleaded guilty Monday to smuggling machinery from the United States to Iran in violation of export controls, federal prosecutors announced.

Tennessee resident Aiden Davidson, 32, pleaded guilty to two felony smuggling charges. Davidson went by the name of Hamed Aliabadi until he became an American citizen in November 2016, according to court papers.

Prosecutors say Davidson’s New Hampshire company — the Manchester-based Golden Gate International LLC — shipped motors, displacement pumps, pumps, valves and other machinery items to Iran.

The office of U.S. Attorney Scott Murray said there are no allegations that the material was used by the Iranian military.

Prosecutors said Golden Gate shipments left the United States from Savannah, Ga., and went to Turkish companies, one a freight forwarding company just 30 miles from the Iranian border.

The products eventually ended up in Iran.

Davidson admitted to twice smuggling machinery between 2016 and 2017; one shipment was valued at $100,000, the other at $13,000.

“The controls on exports to Iran help apply maximum pressure on Iran to end its promotion of instability and terrorism worldwide,” said William Higgins, special agent in charge of the Boston field office of the U.S. Department of Commerce, Office of Export Enforcement. He said his office will continue work to stem illicit trade that threatens U.S. national security and undermines U.S. foreign policy.

Higgins’ remarks were distributed by Murray, the top federal prosecutor in New Hampshire.

Davidson’s lawyer — Boston lawyer J.W. Carney Jr. — would not comment.

The New Hampshire Secretary of State lists Aliabadi as the member-manager of the Golden Gate with a principal address of 80 Dunbarton Road, Apt. 23. The last year that Aliabadi filed business reports was in 2017, and the business has since been administratively dissolved, according to the website.

He moved from the Manchester apartment to Tenessee in late 2017, Murray’s office said.

According to court records, federal officials placed tracking devices on Golden Gate shipping containers in Savannah in December 2016 and traced their route through Turkey, Bazagan, Iran, and eventually on to Tehran.

Armed with that information, investigators applied for search warrants and obtained access to his email and bank records. Davidson’s lawyers challenged the warrants, claiming that the only reason that Commerce Department officials placed tracking devices on the shipments was Davidson’s frequent trips to Iran to visit family.

A judge eventually ruled against the warrant challenge.

As part of the guilty plea, prosecutors dropped other charges that included money laundering, unlawful procurement of naturalization and conspiracy to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. Prosecutors plan to ask U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Laplante to sentence Davidson to the lower end of the federal sentencing guideline recommendation, but filings did not designate how much time that amounts to.

Federal law calls for a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison on a smuggling conviction, but Laplante will be able to take numerous factors into considereation at sentencing.

A sentencing hearing is scheduled for June 17.

Days after his September 2018 arrest, Davidson was freed on a $5,000 bond.


© 2020 The New Hampshire Union Leader