Only weeks after the U.S. election and three days after an Iranian nuclear scientist was assassinated, Iranian authorities convicted a U.S. businessman on spying charges, a family friend said.
The case threatens to complicate plans by the next administration to pursue diplomacy with Iran, as President-elect Joe Biden has said he would be open to easing sanctions on Tehran if the regime returned to compliance with a 2015 nuclear agreement.
The man, Emad Shargi, 56, who is Iranian American, was summoned to a Tehran court Nov. 30 and told that he had been convicted of espionage without a trial and sentenced to 10 years, a family friend said.
Shargi's family has not heard from him for more than six weeks, the family said in a statement.
Only a year earlier, in December 2019, an Iranian court had cleared Shargi, but the regime withheld his Iranian and U.S. passports.
The about-face by the Iranian authorities took place only weeks after Biden won the U.S. presidential election and three days after the killing of a leading nuclear scientist and senior defense official, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, east of Tehran. Iran blamed Israel for the assassination; Israel has declined to comment.
Iranian media and Farsi-language outlets had reported Shargi's conviction but did not mention his U.S. citizenship. Shargi was not taken into custody immediately after he was sentenced; Iranian media reported that he was arrested Dec. 6 in the West Azerbaijan province of Iran, near the northern border with Iraq.
Shargi has been held incommunicado since then, his family said.
"Emad is the heart and soul of our family," Shargi's family said in a statement obtained by NBC News.
"We just pray for his health and safety," the statement said. "It's been more than six weeks since he was taken and we have no idea where he is or who has him. Out of caution for his well-being, we've never spoken publicly about his case and don't wish to now. Please pray for Emad and for his safe return home."