By SDCN Editor
NEW YORK–A federal court in New York Friday unsealed murder-for-hire and money laundering charges against three members of an Eastern European criminal organization for plotting the murder of a U.S. citizen who has been targeted by the Government of Iran for speaking out against the regime’s human rights abuses.
According to court documents, Rafat Amirov, aka Farkhaddin Mirzoev, aka Pᴎᴍ, aka Rome, 43, of Iran; Polad Omarov, aka Araz Aliyev, aka Polad Qaqa, aka Haci Qaqa, 38, of the Czech Republic and Slovenia; and Khalid Mehdiyev, 24, of Yonkers, New York, are charged with money laundering and murder-for-hire in a superseding indictment unsealed Friday in the Southern District of New York. Amirov, who resides in Iran, arrived in the Southern District of New York on Jan. 26 and was arraigned on charges before Magistrate Judge Sarah Cave.
Mehdiyev was arrested on July 29, 2022, on charges contained in an underlying criminal complaint and will be arraigned on the charges in the superseding indictment before the Honorable Colleen McMahon on Jan. 31. Omarov was arrested in the Czech Republic on Jan. 4 and the United States will request his extradition on the charges in the superseding indictment.
“The victim in this case was targeted for exercising the rights to which every American citizen is entitled. The victim publicized the Iranian Government’s human rights abuses; discriminatory treatment of women; suppression of democratic participation and expression; and use of arbitrary imprisonment, torture, and execution,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland. “The Department of Justice will not tolerate attempts by an authoritarian regime to undermine those protections and the rule of law upon which our democracy is based. We will not tolerate attempts by a foreign power to threaten, silence, or harm Americans. We will stop at nothing to identify, find, and bring to justice those who endanger the safety of the American people.”
“As alleged, the defendants are members of an organized crime group hired to assassinate, right here in New York City, a U.S. citizen of Iranian origin who has been critical of the regime’s autocracy and its disregard for human rights,” said U.S. Attorney Damian Williams for the Southern District of New York. “This is the second time in the past two years that this office and our partners at the FBI have disrupted plots originating from within Iran to kidnap or kill this victim for the ‘crime’ of exercising the right to free speech, to independent political thought, and to advocating for the rights of the oppressed and disenfranchised inside Iran.”
According to the allegations contained in the superseding indictment, other court filings, and statements made during court proceedings:
Amirov is a leader in an Eastern European criminal organization (the Organization) that resides in Iran. Omarov also holds a leadership role in the Organization and resides in Eastern Europe. Mehdiyev, a member of the Organization, resides in Yonkers, New York. The Organization has ties to Iran and is violent, engaging in murders, kidnappings, assaults, and extortions, and members typically identify themselves with tattoos and other displays of eight-pointed stars.
Since at least July 2022, the Organization was tasked with carrying out the murder of a U.S. citizen of Iranian origin (the Victim), who previously has been the target of plots by the Government of Iran to intimidate, harass and kidnap the victim. The victim is a journalist, author, and human rights activist, residing in Brooklyn, New York, who has publicized the government of Iran’s human rights abuses and suppression of political expression, including in connection with continuing protests against the regime across Iran. As recently as 2020 and 2021, Iranian intelligence officials and assets plotted to kidnap the victim from within the United States for rendition to Iran in an effort to silence the victim’s criticism of the regime. That plot was disrupted and exposed by the FBI and led to the filing of federal kidnapping conspiracy and other charges in the Southern District of New York against several participants in the plot in United States v. Farahani, et al., 21 Cr. 430.
About one year after the Farahani charges were filed, the Organization was tasked with carrying out the victim’s assassination on U.S. soil. Beginning in approximately mid-July 2022, Amirov sent targeting information – which Amirov had received from other individuals in Iran – about the victim and the victim’s residence to Omarov. Omarov, in turn, communicated the targeting information to Mehdiyev in order to begin conducting surveillance of the victim and reconnaissance of the victim’s residence and surrounding neighborhood. Mehdiyev sent photographs and videos of the victim’s residence to Omarov for further sharing with Amirov and the plot’s orchestrators in Iran.
After Mehdiyev’s initial surveillance of the victim’s residence, Amirov and Omarov arranged for the delivery of a $30,000 cash payment to Mehdiyev in New York City in furtherance of the plot. Mehdiyev used a portion of this cash payment to buy an AK-47-style assault rifle along with two magazines for ammunition and at least 66 rounds. Mehdiyev bragged in electronic communications that he had procured for himself a “war machine.”
Between July 20 and 28, 2022, Mehdiyev repeatedly traveled to the victim’s neighborhood to conduct surveillance and reconnaissance, sending reports of the victim’s activities, photographs, and videos to Omarov for further distribution to Amirov. On July 24, 2022, after arriving at the victim’s residence, Mehdiyev reported to Omarov that Mehdiyev was “at the crime scene.” Omarov encouraged Mehdiyev, “You are a man!” Mehdiyev described to Omarov that “we blocked it from both sides, it will be a show once she steps out of the house.” Omarov forwarded this report to Amirov, who responded, “God willing.”
Mehdiyev was unable to carry out the assassination that day and returned on several subsequent days to seek out opportunities to complete the murder mission. Amirov, Omarov, and Mehdiyev schemed different strategies to attempt to draw the victim out, including attempting to ask the victim for flowers from their garden. On July 28, 2022, Mehdiyev sent Omarov a video taken from inside the car Mehdiyev was driving showing the assault rifle, along with the message that “we are ready.” The victim, after observing suspicious activity outside the residence, left the area, and Mehdiyev drove away shortly afterward. After Mehdiyev drove away from the victim’s residence, he was stopped after a traffic violation, and during a subsequent search of the car, police officers found the assault rifle, 66 rounds of ammunition, approximately $1,100 in cash, and a black ski mask.
Amirov, Omarov, and Mehdiyev are charged with murder-for-hire, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison; conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, and conspiracy to commit money laundering, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Mehdiyev is additionally charged with possessing a firearm with an obliterated serial number, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.