Sanctioned Iranian Businesses Operating Openly in Los Angeles

In an encouraging story of citizen activism, Iranian opposition figure Roozbeh Farahanipour has succeeded in getting the Westwood neighborhood of Los Angeles to pass resolutions demanding action against Iranian regime businesses.

Roozbeh Farahanipour is the co-founder of the Marze Por Gohar political party that seeks a secular-democratic Iran. He was arrested by the Iranian regime for his activism in 1999 and he fled to the U.S. in 2000 after his release.

He researched companies in the Westwood neighborhood of Los Angeles that promote illegal businesses and dealings with the Iranian regime. These companies often have signs in both English and Farsi but advertisements for the Iranian regime only appeared in Farsi, probably in order to fly under the radar.

For example, advertisements for business with Iran Air were seen in the neighborhood. The airline was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department on June 23, 2011. It said that Iran Air is used by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps and Ministry of Defense to move weaponry, including missile and rocket components. Revolutionary Guards pilots even sometimes fly the aircraft.

Iran Air has also been used by the regime to arm Hezbollah, supply the Syrian regime and make secret missions to Venezuela, where Hezbollah has established a presence. This Venezuela-based network is likely used to maintain the relationships with Mexican drug cartels that the Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah have developed. 

Shipping services to Iran are also advertised. The U.S. government has recognized how the regime uses shipping companies for covert nuclear and terrorist activity and has sanctioned many of them.

Other businesses offer services to the so-called “Iranian Embassy in Washington, D.C.” The problem there is that no such embassy exists. Iran’s diplomatic operations are run through the Pakistani embassy, which has an “Interests Section of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

The advertisements offer consular and legal services on behalf of the non-existent embassy. This includes visas, green cards, passports, citizenship paperwork, notaries, translations, national identification registration, birth certificates and corporate registrations.

Reporter Karmel Melamed followed Farahanipour's leads and found three stores offering consular services, two stores advertising shipping services, one travel agency with the Iran Air logo displayed and five travel agencies with plans for Iran.

Obviously, such services are highly suspect. As Farahanipour points out, these services are necessary for covert intelligence operations, smuggling and money laundering. Every regime-tied business should be looked upon as a likely front and Iranian dissidents in the area should be very concerned.

Frank Nikbakht, an Iranian Jew that leads the Committee for Minority Rights in Iran, says regime-linked entities have a history of intimidating regime opponents and promoting extremism.

“Anti-Semitism propagated by certain elements associated with the IRI during the years before 9/11, including open anti-Semitic talk and propaganda, contributed to shootings and beatings of Jewish youth in several 2002 incidents here in Los Angeles,” he said.

Farahanipour compiled his research into a powerpoint presentation. The of the slides can be viewed below:

As a member of the Westwood Neighborhood Council, Farahanipour was in a position to do something about it.

On September 10, the council (an elected body) passed two resolutions. One demanded that the U.S. sanctions be enforced in the neighborhood and called on Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz to give such companies three weeks to remove all such advertisements. The second demanded that businesses remove all materials with symbols of the Iranian regime.

Farahanipour was supported by California State Senator Joel Anderson (R-San Diego) who flew into the area to endorse his initiative.

“Roozbeh is right to be outraged that in a post-9/11 America, any local business would advertise themselves as agents of the Islamic Republic of Iran. We all should be outraged, too,” Anderson said in a statement to the media.

Anderson wrote a letter on September 19 to the director of California’s Department of Consumer Affairs about Farahanipour’s research and activism.

The Westwood Community Council, a separate organization, also passed Farahanipour’s resolutions on September 16. 

Farahanipour told the Clarion Project that Iranian-Americans and even Americans without an Iranian background should be on the lookout for similar activity across the country.

From there, the first step is to give well-researched information to local, city, state and federal representatives and law enforcement authorities. Demand that it be reviewed and follow-up to get responses.

“Publicizing peoples’ concerns on all possible levels is also very important because pro-Islamic Republic of Iran groups are somewhat organized in larger American cities. They are very sensitive to any publicity about illegal activities or even the extent of their presence,” he said.

Farahanipour’s success isn’t just about fighting the Iranian regime. It’s an example for all Americans to follow.

 

Ryan Mauro is ClarionProject.org’s national security analyst, a fellow with Clarion Project and an adjunct professor of homeland security. Mauro is frequently interviewed on top-tier television and radio.

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