(Updates with judge’s comment in fourth paragraph.)
Feb. 7 (Bloomberg) -- Manssor Arbabsiar, the Iranian- American car salesman accused of plotting to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., will go on trial Oct. 22, a federal judge said.
Arbabsiar and Gholam Shakuri, who the U.S. said was a member of Iran’s Qods Force, were charged in a five-count indictment filed Oct. 20 with plotting to hire someone from a Mexican drug cartel to kill Ambassador Adel Al-Jubeir in the U.S. The man the two approached to be their assassin was a U.S. informant, prosecutors said.
U.S. District Judge John Keenan in Manhattan today expressed frustration with both prosecutors and Arbabsiar’s lawyer for not being ready for trial. Keenan yesterday rejected the defense lawyer’s request for a 30-day adjournment.
“I want to get this case on track,” Keenan told lawyers at a hearing in the case today. The judge said he first saw Arbabsiar at his Oct. 24 arraignment, and 364 days will have passed by the trial date.
“If this isn’t long enough to prepare for trial, then I’ve been in the wrong business for my whole professional career,” Keenan said. “I’ve never heard of a case where you need more than a year to prepare it.”
The U.S. State Department has described the Qods Force as an arm of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Other Qods Force members in Iran also were involved and helped to bankroll the plot, which was to have cost $1.5 million and be carried out in the U.S., prosecutors said.
Arbabsiar has pleaded not guilty. Shakuri is at large, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors have turned over “about 95 percent” of the classified material that was evidence against Arbabsiar, including 75 pages of post-arrest statements the defendant made under questioning by U.S. authorities during a 10-day period, Assistant U.S. Attorney Glen Kopp told the judge today.
At the arraignment last year, Keenan said evidence the U.S. gathered against Arbabsiar included tapes of conversations made by investigators working with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Some documents included an alleged admission of guilt and needed to be translated, Keenan said at the October hearing.
March 9 Deadline
“Get everything to her by March 9,” Keenan told prosecutors. Sabrina Shroff, a lawyer for Arbabsiar, told Keenan she would need more time to prepare a defense and suggested a November trial date.
“The case itself is complex,” she said.
Keenan refused, saying he may change his mind after reviewing any letter Shroff sends him discussing her concerns about the case. In a Feb. 5 letter to the court, Shroff requested more time to review evidence turned over by prosecutors and continue talks on a “a possible disposition” of the case.
“I don’t want this thing dragging on,” Keenan said today. “It’s not fair to the defendant, it’s not fair to the government or to the witnesses in the case.”
Shroff declined to comment the case after court.
The case is U.S. v. Arbabsiar, 11-cr-00897, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
--Editors: Stephen Farr, Fred Strasser
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