The Houston Connection to the Iran Prisoner Swap

“Iranian businessmen, particularly like Mr. Mechanic, were sort of caught in the middle of very complex laws of what is and what is not allowed to be sent to certain countries.”


By Alain StephensJanuary 19, 2016 2:00 pm, ,

Part of the deal that led to the weekend release of American hostages held in Iran, including Washington Post reporter Jason Rezian, was that the U.S. clear several Iranians here, some with American passports, of violating U.S. sanctions.

Obama pardoned many of those on the list, including a Houston businessman named Bahram Mechanic who had been held at the Federal Detention Center in Houston for more than nine months. Forbes writer Walt Pavlo reported on Mechanic’s business dealings back in August.

Pavlo says Mechanic has a Houston-based business that was a “spin-off” of a business in Iran, which was established in 1972. After the revolution in 1979, Pavlo says economic sanctions made doing business from the U.S. with companies in Iran more complicated.

“Iranian businessmen, particularly like Mr. Mechanic,” he says, “were sort of caught in the middle of very complex laws of what is and what is not allowed to be sent to certain countries – in this case, Iran.”

Mechanic had lawyers look at what he could or couldn’t send to Iran, including items that Pavlo says most people could pick up at a place like Walmart.

“He knew that he was operating in shady area,” Pavlo says. “Because [he was] just not understanding all the different, complex laws regarding shipping things to a country like Iran. He did it and he certainly paid a price for what he did.”

The accusations from the government, Pavlo says, were that Mechanic had sold things to the Iranian government. But Pavlo says the Iranian government owns a lot of businesses, some of which may have been doing business with Mechanic’s business in Iran.

“If a power supply went to some office that was a government office, you could say that that had ties to nuclear proliferation,” Pavlo says. “It was a bit of a stretch.”

Pavlo says Mechanic is back home in Houston, as are the seven inmates who were pardoned along with him. Though some are calling the coinciding pardon and release a “swap,” Pavlo says none of those pardoned went to Iran.

“The fact is that those seven are, like Mr. Mechanic, Iranian-Americans,” he says. “They went home, they’re staying here in the United States. There’s no swap of them going back to Iran. They’re American citizens that have gone through the citizenship process.”