On Sept. 18, 2023, the U.S. Treasury sanctioned Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was the president of Iran from 2005 to 2013, for supporting the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS). For decades, MOIS has detained foreigners on spurious charges. “Today’s action targets Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for enabling the wrongful detention of our citizens, causing immeasurable pain and suffering for both the victims and their families,” said Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson. The sanctions froze any assets Ahmadinejad might hold in the United States.
Concurrently, the State Department designated the MOIS for involvement in the wrongful detention of Americans and Ahmadinejad for supporting the MOIS. It also imposed visa restrictions on three Iranian government officials for involvement in human rights abuses or hostage taking. The actions were taken pursuant to The Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act and Executive Order 14078, which honored Bob Levinson, a retired FBI agent who disappeared in Iran in 2007 while participating in a rogue CIA mission. For years, Iran has refused to account for his whereabouts. Levinson was abducted while Ahmadinejad was in office.
The United States announced the moves on the same day that Iran and the United States implemented a carefully choreographed prisoner exchange. “While we celebrate the release of Emad Shargi, Siamak Namazi, Morad Tahbaz, and two other U.S. citizens from their unjust detention in Iran, we are also taking action to hold the regime accountable for its abhorrent practice of unjustly detaining other countries’ citizens and to deter future wrongful detention by Iran and other regimes,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said. The following are statements from the Treasury and State Departments.
Today, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the former president of Iran, for having provided material support to the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), an entity concurrently designated by the Department of State. These actions are being taken pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 14078, “Bolstering Efforts to Bring Hostages and Wrongfully Detained U.S. Nationals Home,” which expands the tools available to deter and impose tangible consequences on those responsible for, or complicit in, hostage-taking or the wrongful detention of a United States national abroad.
“Today’s action targets Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for enabling the wrongful detention of our citizens, causing immeasurable pain and suffering for both the victims and their families,” said Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson. “We remain strongly committed to the victims and their families, and are resolute in our efforts to hold accountable those who perpetrate these acts.”
E.O. 14078 draws on the authority of the 2020 Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage Taking Accountability Act, which is a credit to the perseverance of the Levinson family and others who have worked to turn their family’s extraordinary hardships into constructive and meaningful action. The Iranian regime’s refusal to account for what happened to Robert Levinson caused unbearable pain and suffering to Levinson, his family, and those who care about him. The Administration calls on the Iranian regime to give a full accounting of what happened to Bob Levinson, from his initial captivity to his probable death.
The Department of State concurrently designated MOIS for being responsible for, or complicit in, to have directly or indirectly engaged in, or to be responsible for ordering, controlling, or otherwise directing, the hostage-taking of a U.S. national or the wrongful detention of a U.S. national abroad.
MOIS had previously been designated on February 16, 2012 pursuant to E.O. 13553 for being responsible for or complicit in the commission of serious human rights abuses against the Iranian people since June 12, 2009; pursuant to E.O. 13224 for providing support to Hizballah, Hamas, and al-Qa’ida; and pursuant to E.O. 13572 for providing support to the Syrian General Intelligence Directorate. On September 9, 2022, OFAC designated MOIS pursuant to E.O. 13694, as amended, for engaging in cyber-enabled activities against the United States.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (Ahmadinejad) served as the President of Iran from 2005 to 2013. During his tenure, Ahmadinejad was responsible for, among other things, appointing two Ministers of Intelligence and Security to lead MOIS, which was nominally under the President’s supervision. Ahmadinejad appointed to the position Qolam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei in 2005 and Heydar Moslehi in 2009, both of whom were designated on September 29, 2010 in the Annex to E.O. 13553, which authorizes the imposition of sanctions on certain persons with respect to serious human rights abuses by the Government of Iran.
Additionally, during Ahmadinejad’s term in office, MOIS was involved in the detention of several U.S. nationals, including former Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) special agent Robert “Bob” Levinson, as well as three U.S. hikers: Shane Bauer, Joshua Fattal, and Sarah Shourd. While the three hikers were eventually released after years-long detentions, Mr. Levinson remains missing and is presumed deceased. Previously, on December 14, 2020, OFAC designated high-ranking officers of Iran’s MOIS, Mohammad Baseri and Ahmad Khazai, pursuant to E.O. 13553 for their involvement in the abduction, detention, and probable death of Robert Levinson. MOIS’ operation to abduct and detain Mr. Levinson was authorized by senior Iranian officials, who then launched a disinformation campaign to deflect blame from the Iranian regime.
Ahmadinejad has since remained active in the Iranian regime. Following his presidency, Ahmadinejad became a member of Iran’s Council for the Discernment of Expedience, which serves to resolve legislative issues and advise Iran’s Supreme Leader on matters of national policy.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is being designated pursuant to E.O. 14078 for having materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of, MOIS. Concurrently, Ahmadinejad is being identified pursuant to E.O. 13599 for meeting the definition of the Government of Iran.
As a result of today’s action, all property and interests in property of the designated persons described above that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. In addition, any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, individually or in the aggregate, 50 percent or more by one or more blocked persons are also blocked. Unless authorized by a general or specific license issued by OFAC, or exempt, OFAC’s regulations generally prohibit all transactions by U.S. persons or within (or transiting) the United States that involve any property or interests in property of designated or otherwise blocked persons.
In addition, financial institutions and other persons that engage in certain transactions or activities with sanctioned entities and individuals may expose themselves to sanctions or be subject to an enforcement action. The prohibitions include the making of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services by, to, or for the benefit of any designated person, or the receipt of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services from any such person.
The power and integrity of OFAC sanctions derive not only from OFAC’s ability to designate and add persons to the SDN List, but also from its willingness to remove persons from the SDN List consistent with the law. The ultimate goal of sanctions is not to punish, but to bring about a positive change in behavior. For information concerning the process for seeking removal from an OFAC list, including the SDN List, please refer to OFAC’s Frequently Asked Question 897 here. For detailed information on the process to submit a request for removal from an OFAC sanctions list, please click here.
Secretary of State Blinken
“While we celebrate the release of Emad Shargi, Siamak Namazi, Morad Tahbaz, and two other U.S. citizens from their unjust detention in Iran, we are also taking action to hold the regime accountable for its abhorrent practice of unjustly detaining other countries’ citizens and to deter future wrongful detention by Iran and other regimes.
“Pursuant to the sanctions authorities provided by the Levinson Act and Executive Order 14078, the United States is today designating Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) in connection with the MOIS’s involvement in the wrongful detention of U.S citizens and former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for his support to MOIS. During Ahmadinejad’s term in office, Iran’s MOIS abducted and detained Bob Levinson with authorization by senior Iranian officials. The regime’s refusal to account for what happened to Bob caused unbearable pain and suffering to his family and those who care about him. We call on Iran to give a full accounting of what happened to Bob Levinson, from his initial captivity to his probable death.
We are also taking steps to impose visa restrictions on three Iranian government officials believed to be responsible for or complicit in serious abuses or violations of human rights, as well as hostage-taking or wrongful, arbitrary, or otherwise unjust detention of U.S. and foreign nationals pursuant to authority in Section 212 (a)(3)(C) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). We are further announcing the designation of Iranian prison officials Ali Chaharmahali and Dariush Bakshi pursuant to Section 7031(c) of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act of 2023 for their involvement in gross violations of human rights, namely the cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment of detainees in Iran’s prison system. These individuals and their immediate family members are ineligible for entry into the United States.
“The United States has no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens. We will continue to work to bring home U.S. nationals wrongfully detained overseas and hold accountable those who are involved in the wrongful detention of U.S. nationals abroad.”
The Department of State is designating MOIS for being responsible for or complicit in, to have directly or indirectly engaged in, or to be responsible for ordering, controlling, or otherwise directing the hostage-taking of a U.S. national or the wrongful detention of a U.S national abroad. The Department of the Treasury is designating Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for having materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of MOIS. Sanctions actions are being taken pursuant to E.O. 14078 “Bolstering Efforts to Bring Hostages and Wrongfully Detained U.S. Nationals Home.”