645 F.3d 564 (3rd Cir. 2011), 10-1198, United States v. Amirnazmi

Docket Nº:10-1198.
Citation:645 F.3d 564
Opinion Judge:SCIRICA, Circuit Judge.
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America v. Ali AMIRNAZMI, Appellant.
Attorney:Elizabeth K. Ainslie, Esquire (Argued), Vincent A. LaMonaca, Esquire, Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis, Philadelphia, PA, Attorneys for Appellant. Bernadette A. McKeon, Esquire (Argued), Stephen A. Miller, Esquire, Office of United States Attorney, Philadelphia, PA, Attorney for Appellee.
Judge Panel:Before: SCIRICA, BARRY and VANASKIE, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:May 13, 2011
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

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645 F.3d 564 (3rd Cir. 2011)



Ali AMIRNAZMI, Appellant.

No. 10-1198.

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit.

May 13, 2011

Argued Jan. 11, 2011.

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Elizabeth K. Ainslie, Esquire (Argued), Vincent A. LaMonaca, Esquire, Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis, Philadelphia, PA, Attorneys for Appellant.

Bernadette A. McKeon, Esquire (Argued), Stephen A. Miller, Esquire, Office of United States Attorney, Philadelphia, PA, Attorney for Appellee.

Before: SCIRICA, BARRY and VANASKIE, Circuit Judges.


SCIRICA, Circuit Judge.

In pursuit of his stated goal of transforming the Islamic Republic of Iran into a global chemical powerhouse, Ali Amirnazmi, a chemical engineer, marketed a dynamic software program to Iranian actors and entered into agreements with various Iranian entities in which he pledged to provide technology to facilitate the construction of multiple chemical plants. Following a jury trial, Amirnazmi was convicted on ten charges— four counts stemming from violations of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), three counts of making false statements, and three counts of bank fraud. Amirnazmi moved both for a judgment of acquittal and for a new trial. The District Court denied both motions and sentenced him to a four-year prison term. We will affirm.


Amirnazmi, a dual citizen of the United States and Iran, founded a company called TranTech Consultants, Inc., in 1981. Billed as a business geared toward providing " an innovative approach to strategic decision making for the Chemical Process Industries," TranTech marketed its primary product— a computer software program called ChemPlan— as an " exclusive, fully integrated, worldwide database" designed to allow chemical companies to assess product viability and cost based on a number of variables. ChemPlan had two principal functions. As a database that illuminated how chemical reactions could be disaggregated into their component parts, it included both public information and proprietary data derived from Amirnazmi's expert analysis of the various processes.1 And as a dynamic planning tool, ChemPlan enabled end users to determine individualized production costs and the feasibility of embarking on prospective projects by allowing them to change the input variables in order to generate " what if" scenarios accounting for market fluctuations. These features made ChemPlan attractive to major manufacturers such as the Dow Chemical Company, LyondellBasell Industries, and Rohm and Haas Company.

Aiming to facilitate Iran's transformation into " an independent chemical

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powerhouse," 2 and seeking to spur " a flow of Iranian [ ] [scientists] back to Iran" where he would ultimately join them to impart his expertise,3 Amirnazmi began, in the mid-1990s, to explore business partnerships with Iranian entities. First, he initiated efforts to sell ChemPlan to the state-owned National Petrochemical Company of Iran (NPC). In August 1997, TranTech and NPC executed a Software/Data License Agreement whereby NPC agreed to purchase a subscription to ChemPlan for $64,000. Amirnazmi directed NPC to wire payment to a European bank account, and he traveled to Iran to demonstrate the product's functionality to NPC officials. In 1998, NPC purchased a software update for $18,000. In 2000, NPC enlisted Amirnazmi's assistance in its quest to obtain an off-the-shelf software package called BoxScore, a suite of programs manufactured in the United States and consequently unavailable to Iranian entities affected by U.S. trade sanctions. Amirnazmi procured the software, sent it to an intermediary in Germany, and charged NPC $667.85 for his efforts.

Amirnazmi met in person with NPC personnel at a 2000 international petrochemical conference held in Iran. Thereafter, he sent NPC's Director of Planning and Development a letter in which he encouraged NPC to renew its ChemPlan subscription and proposed three options— including the formation of a joint venture— for tailoring ChemPlan to NPC's unique needs. Amirnazmi attended the same conference in 2001 and again attempted to solicit NPC interest in a customized ChemPlan package by sending an NPC contact several renewed proposals along with subscription order forms.

In 2002, Amirnazmi endeavored to engage an Iranian company to handle its advertising and promotional efforts. In connection with this deal, Amirnazmi attempted to transfer $250 to an Iranian bank account. The U.S. bank declined to complete the transaction, and the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) requested from Amirnazmi a detailed explanation for this attempted transfer. Amirnazmi responded that he had not known such a transaction was prohibited by the sanctions then in place against Iran. 4

After indicating he was willing to conduct business with Iran, Amirnazmi was granted a private audience with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at an event in New York City in September 2006. At this meeting and in subsequent correspondence, Amirnazmi expressed his desire to transfer ChemPlan's technical and economic knowledge to Iran and sought President Ahmadinejad's assistance in helping him return to Iran so that he might serve the country in his " field of expertise." 5 In a January 2007 letter, Amirnazmi beseeched President Ahmadinejad to arrange an in-person meeting in Tehran so that he might unveil his " plan"

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to help Iran, and he decried the United States' " cruel and tyran[nical]" treatment of the Iranian people.6

Having brought himself to President Ahmadinejad's attention, Amirnazmi's efforts to improve Iran's chemical capacities began to show results. In December 2007, Amirnazmi (on behalf of TranTech) signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Institute for Business Analysis and Consultancy (IBACO), an Iranian company, regarding the provision of technology for a proposed polyvinyl butyral chemical plant to be constructed in Iran. In May 2008, Amirnazmi entered into a separate confidentiality agreement with IBACO in which he agreed to have TranTech provide software licensing, equipment and chemicals in connection with the construction of a glacial acrylic acid and super absorbent polymer plant in Iran.

Amirnazmi and NPC rekindled their working partnership in 2008, entering into a new licensing agreement for the ChemPlan software. During the negotiations leading up to this agreement, Amirnazmi represented that the 1997 ChemPlan licensing agreement was " still valid." 7 And in June 2008, Amirnazmi entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Nokhbegan Institute of Technology Development (NITD), an Iranian company, to create a joint venture to provide software, database and technology transfer services to clients in the chemical process industry. Under the agreement, Amirnazmi pledged to have TranTech transfer the ChemPlan system to a newly-formed company in Iran in which TranTech would have been the majority shareholder.

The Memorandum of Understanding with NITD expired by its own terms after two months. The 2008 licensing agreement with NPC, which was signed by the counterparties and which fixed the subscription fee at $270,000, was to become effective upon installation of ChemPlan on NPC hardware. Amirnazmi twice met with IBACO officials in 2008 to negotiate the terms of a formal contract covering the polyvinyl butyral plant, but the resulting Technology Transfer and Construction Agreement was never signed by the parties. And the IBACO confidentiality agreement concerning the super absorbent polymer plant contemplated further elucidation within the framework of a formal contract drafted upon " finalizing negotiation[s] with investors."

Amirnazmi drew the attention of U.S. Customs and Border Protection by traveling to Iran in 2007 and twice more in 2008. Customs agents interviewed Amirnazmi upon his return to the United States in both April and June of 2008. Upon questioning, he claimed both trips were to visit his elderly mother and that the latter trip also permitted him to attend a petroleum conference. Although Amirnazmi repeatedly disavowed any commercial purpose for his travels, the presence of ostensibly business-related possessions cast doubt on the credibility of his responses. In April he claimed the sundry business cards and documents found in his briefcase were personal effects he had not made use of on his trip. In June 2008, confronted by Customs officials with computer files and hard copy documents detailing plans to build chemical plants in Iran, he declined to offer an explanation.

On June 4, 2008, the day after his second encounter with Customs officials, Amirnazmi contacted the OFAC compliance

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hotline to inquire in general about U.S. restrictions on commercial activity with Iran. Without either delving into the specifics of how ChemPlan operated or mentioning his prior business dealings with Iranian companies, he asked whether making public documents available on a website would fall within the informational-materials exemption to IEEPA and whether exporting an unidentified " good" would theoretically require dispensation in the form of a license issued by OFAC.

Two days after this telephone conversation, Amirnazmi was questioned by agents from the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He acknowledged meeting President Ahmadinejad but denied having conducted business on either of his 2008 trips to Iran, and he claimed his only two financial transactions with Iran had been the disallowed wire transfers much earlier in the decade. The agents subsequently obtained a search warrant for Amirnazmi's business. Despite Amirnazmi's protestations that none of the documents named in the warrant were located on the premises, the authorities seized numerous physical...

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