The U.S. Justice Department has charged a member of Iran's elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) in connection with an alleged plot to kill former White House national-security adviser John Bolton.
The Justice Department announced the charges against Shahram Poursafi, also known as Mehdi Rezayi, 45, of Tehran in a news release on August 10. The charging documents identify Poursafi as a member of the IRGC.
Iran rejected the charges as "ridiculous and baseless." Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani was quoted by Iranian media as saying that Iran strongly warned against any action committed against Iranian citizens on the pretext of the accusations.
The department said Poursafi "attempted to pay individuals in the United States $300,000 to carry out the murder" in either Washington or the neighboring U.S. state of Maryland.
Prosecutors said the plot was likely in retaliation for the January 2020 drone strike that killed Qasem Soleimani, who was the head of the IRGC's elite Quds Force.
The allegation came as Iran weighs a proposed agreement to revive the 2015 nuclear agreement under which Tehran had curbed its nuclear program in return for relief from sanctions.
Tehran held up negotiations on reviving the deal for months, demanding that the United States remove its official designation of the IRGC as a sponsor of terrorism. Washington rejected that demand.
A U.S. official quoted by Reuters said the United States did not believe the charges against Poursafi should affect the diplomatic efforts.
According to the Justice Department, Poursafi began communicating with a confidential source in October 2021 over an encrypted messaging application and directed the individual to hire someone to "eliminate" Bolton for $300,000 and set up a cryptocurrency account to facilitate payment.
Poursafi allegedly told the confidential source, who is not identified by the Justice Department, that it did not matter how the killing was carried out.
The Justice Department said that in December 2021, Poursafi sent a photograph of two plastic bags that appeared to contain stacks of dollars and a handwritten note with the confidential source's name.
On January 3, the anniversary of the killing of Soleimani, Poursafi expressed regret that the killing would not be conducted by the anniversary. He also told the source that he was under pressure to complete the killing.
Poursafi also allegedly told the source he had another assassination job for which he would pay $1 million. The target of that alleged plot was not revealed by the Justice Department.
The source months later declined to continue to work without being paid. Poursafi agreed on April 28 to send the source $100 in cryptocurrency to prove payment could be made. Later that day, the cryptocurrency wallet received two payments totaling $100, according to the Justice Department.
If convicted, Poursafi faces up to 10 years in prison for the use of interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire, and up to 15 years in prison for providing and attempting to provide material support to a transnational murder plot. The potential sentences also carry fines of up to $250,000 each.
Poursafi remains at large abroad, the Justice Department said.
Bolton, who served as national-security adviser to then-President Donald Trump from 2018-19 and also served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 2005-06 under then-president George W. Bush, thanked the FBI and Justice Department for their work in developing the case.
"While much cannot be said publicly right now, one point is indisputable: Iran's rulers are liars, terrorists, and enemies of the United States," he said in a statement.
Current national-security adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement that the charging document outlines allegations of Iran's continued attempts to carry out an assassination on U.S. soil and warned Iran against carrying out any such plots.
"Should Iran attack any of our citizens, to include those who continue to serve the United States or those who formerly served, Iran will face severe consequences," he said.