Canada

Trudeau defends government actions as questions swirl around businessmen indicted in U.S.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the government is working “very closely with American partners” and the Iranian diaspora in Canada to target people with ties to Iran’s regime.

CBC News investigation found three businessmen facing felony charges in U.S. are working in Canada

A man speaks at a microphone, flanked by two Canadian flags.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his government needs to ensure its measures against Iran are 'properly enforced.' (Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the government is working "very closely with American partners" and the Iranian diaspora in Canada to target people with ties to Iran's regime.

The PM was responding to a CBC News report about three businessmen active in Canada who are facing felony charges in the U.S. They're accused of conspiring to evade U.S. sanctions on Iran.

A U.S. indictment in April 2021 accused Salim Henareh, Khalil Henareh and Saeed Torab Abtahi of playing a role in a scheme with at least seven other people to conceal more than $750 million US worth of transactions on Iran's behalf to slip past American sanctions.

The businessmen call the allegations baseless and are promoting themselves online as professionals in the world of real estate in Toronto.

Iranian-Canadians accuse the government of doing too little to ensure Canada isn't a safe haven for the Iranian regime's business transactions. Trudeau defended the government's actions on Wednesday, citing the sanctions it has imposed since the fall on Iranian individuals and entities.

"The leadership of Iran and of the Iranian [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] is permanently banned from ever coming to Canada or finding haven here," said Trudeau. "Obviously, we need to ensure that's properly enforced, so we're ensuring the resources to do that."

WATCH | Businessmen in Canada accused by the FBI of helping Iran's regime:

Businessmen in Canada wanted by the FBI for allegedly helping Iran

1 year ago
Duration 3:01
A CBC News investigation has revealed three men wanted by the FBI on felony charges for allegedly helping the Iranian regime are living in Canada.

In October 2022, the government announced it would be spending $76 million to help enforce sanctions on Iran. Some of the money was earmarked for an additional 30 staff members at the RCMP. But the national police force confirmed it's still working with the Department of Finance on receiving the funds. 

"The process is ongoing and its implementation is expected to start during next fiscal year," wrote Robin Percival, a spokesperson for the RCMP.

Canada's Department of Justice said these sanctions are not designed to target Canadians or people who ordinarily live here.

A lawyer for the men called his clients "proud Canadians" and the American allegations baseless.

"They have no connection directly or indirectly with the Government of Iran … Our clients look forward to refuting these specious and politically motivated allegations in the appropriate forum at the appropriate time," their lawyer Gavin Tighe wrote in a statement to CBC News. 

The men are not accused of violating any laws in Canada. 

It's not clear if the U.S. has asked Canada to extradite one or all of the three men, since the process is confidential unless it goes to court. There are no extradition proceedings tied to the men in court right now.

The Department of Justice International Assistance Group handles extradition requests by reviewing the evidence and assessing whether the conduct in question is also a criminal offence in Canada, the department said. The group decides whether an extradition request proceeds to the judicial stage. 

'Extradition is a complicated process': Lametti

Justice Minister David Lametti said he wouldn't comment on the case Wednesday since matters related to an extradition request "could conceivably" cross his desk.

"Extradition is a complicated process in Canada," said Lametti.

Michael Nesbitt, a professor at the University of Calgary faculty of law who specializes in sanctions and national security law, said this case involves a number of complications and "undealt-with issues in the Canadian legal realm." 

He said there have been very few Canadian cases tied to U.S. sanctions which "don't fit perfectly with the Canadian sanctions regime."

"[It] has to be a crime in Canada for us to extradite," said Nesbitt. "So we're not going to extradite a Canadian for something that we would never recognize as a crime."

While Canada has also imposed sanctions against Iran, the scope of those sanctions could be different, he said. 

CBC News asked the Department of Justice if the offences at the heart of the U.S. charges are also considered crimes in Canada.

Department spokesperson Ian McLeod said the department wouldn't comment "as it would be inappropriate to speculate about the potential for dual criminality in a specific case."

Conservative MP Melissa Lantsman said Iranian proxies in Canada 'have gotten rich from the regime itself.' (Rob Krbavac/CBC)

Conservative MP and deputy party leader Melissa Lantsman said that anyone found by the RCMP to be tied to Iran's regime and breaking Canadian laws should be stripped of citizenship and "expelled."

"There are actors from this regime, Canadians who are tied to this regime, who are intimidating, who are raising money, who are organizing and that are getting or have gotten rich from the regime itself," said Lantsman. "We should use every part of our own authorities to make sure that they're not."

She said the sanctions are not broad enough and the Conservatives are calling on the government to list Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp as a terrorist organization under the Criminal Code.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said the government will "continue to be vigilant."

"We're working very closely with CBSA and the entire public safety apparatus to make sure Canada is not a safe haven in any way to support the regime in Iran," said Mendicino.

A criminal trial date has not yet been scheduled in California for the case involving Abtahi, Salim and Khalil Henareh. 

The latest update in court in March 2022 said all 10 of the defendants remain fugitives abroad.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ashley Burke

Senior reporter

Ashley Burke is a senior reporter with the CBC's Parliamentary Bureau in Ottawa. She was recognized with the Charles Lynch Award and was a finalist for the Michener Award for her exclusive reporting on the toxic workplace at Rideau Hall. She has also uncovered allegations of sexual misconduct involving senior leaders in the Canadian military. You can reach her confidentially by email: ashley.burke@cbc.ca

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