Night-Vision Goggle Lady on Trial
Today is the ninth day that Shahrzad Mir Gholikhan (pictured above), a 31-year-old Iranian woman, has stood in front of a federal jury in Fort Lauderdale wearing brown scrubs and white plastic government-issued flip-flops. In a move that has been described as bold, crazy, or both, the polite, petite detainee has been representing herself in broken English, claiming that she did not plot to import highly-controlled military-grade night-vision goggles to Iran, and that she's innocent of the six charges the feds have tossed at her. A verdict is expected today.
Prosecutor Michael Walleisa, appearing before judge James I. Cohn, claims that e-mails, phone calls, and faxes prove that two men -- known as Hamid Reza Kargar and Mahmoud Seif -- were negotiating to procure goggles for the Iranian government from 2002 to 2004, in violation of U.S. law. Taped conversations and computer records show that a woman who called herself "Farideh Fahimi" stepped in in late 2004 and helped the men arrange a meeting in Austria where one pair of goggles -- costing $10,500 -- would be handed over.
At the meeting in Austria, Ms. Gholikhan showed up with Mr. Seif. Both were arrested. U.S. agents believe Gholikhan had used "Farideh Fahimi" as an alias. Gholikhan claims she had no involvement in the deal and no knowledge of the Fahimi name. She says her only role was to accompany Seif -- her abusive ex-husband -- to the meeting to act as his translator.
Gholikhan spent 28 days in jail in Austria and paid a fine to resolve her case in 2005. After learning that the US had put out a "red notice" for her through Interpol, she came to the United States willingly in December 2007, insisting upon her innocence. She has been held in Miami while enduring one collapsed plea deal and one mistrial before her current case. Now, the burden lies on the government to prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" that Gholikhan acted "willingly and knowingly."
In court, Gholikhan gave a long explanation that included kidnapping attempts, death threats, abortions, heart attacks, forged documents, a fake marriage, and twin daughters. Her story spans the globe -- China, Iran, United Arab Emirates, Paris, Qatar, Cyprus, Frankfurt, and finally Fort Lauderdale. She also pointed out that Seif (whom she described as "the devil") and Kargar are still at large. She imagined them hanging out in Iran with a few Syrian wives apiece, laughing.
-- Deirdra Funcheon