(Updates with next hearing date in sixth paragraph.)
Oct. 24 (Bloomberg) -- Manssor Arbabsiar, an Iranian- American car salesman, pleaded not guilty in Manhattan federal court to charges that he conspired to blow up the Saudi ambassador to the U.S.
Arbabsiar, 56, and Gholam Shakuri, who the U.S. said was a member of Iran’s “Qods Force,” plotted to hire someone from a violent Mexican drug cartel to assassinate Ambassador Adel Al- Jubeir, according to a five-count indictment filed Oct. 20. The man they approached was actually a U.S. informant, prosecutors have said.
Asked today by a clerk how he would plead to the charges, Arbabsiar replied, “not guilty.” Arbabsiar has lived in the Corpus Christi, Texas, area, a federal law enforcement official said. He faces life in prison if convicted of all charges against him, prosecutors said.
U.S. District Judge John Keenan said there will probably be an extensive pretrial exchange of evidence, including secretly taped conversations made by investigators working with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“Some of them may need to be translated if they’re in Farsi,” Keenan said. “There are alleged admissions of guilt which may be challenged.”
Keenan agreed to give lawyers time to review the evidence in the case and set a Dec. 21 hearing. Arbabsiar is the only defendant in the case in U.S. custody. Prosecutors said Shakuri is at large.
Sabrina Shroff, Arbabsiar’s court-appointed lawyer, declined to comment after today’s hearing. Two men with Saudi United Nations credentials who attended the arraignment declined to speak to English-language press after the hearing.
The man recruited by Arbabsiar and Shakuri to kill the ambassador was secretly working for the Drug Enforcement Administration, prosecutors said when they announced the charges Oct. 11. Arbabsiar told the informant his cousin was a “big general” in Iran who focused on matters “outside Iran,” prosecutors said.
The two men discussed killing the ambassador by blowing up a restaurant that he frequented, prosecutors said. Other targets included “foreign government facilities associated with Saudi Arabia and with another country,” the U.S. said.
Others from the Qods Force in Iran were also involved and helped bankroll the plot, which was to have cost $1.5 million, the U.S. said.
The U.S. State Department has described the Qods Force as an arm of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps that conducts “covert operations abroad” and has sponsored attacks against U.S. coalition forces in Iraq.
Iran said it “categorically” rejected the U.S. claims about the alleged plot.
The case is U.S. v. Arbabsiar, 11-cr-00897, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
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