Iranian accused in plot to send night vision goggles to Iran
By Vanessa Blum
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — As an Iranian woman, Sharhazad Mir Gholikhan says she was required to wear a head covering, forced to marry a man she barely knew and forbidden to travel without her husband's consent.
But in the Fort Lauderdale federal courtroom where Gholikhan is on trial, the 31-year-old mother is making her own decisions and acting as her own attorney.
Gholikhan's defense to charges she tried to export American-made night vision goggles to Iran: that she had no choice but to obey the orders of her former husband, who dragged her into the illegal plot.
"Once you get married in Iran, your husband has control over you," she told the American jury deciding her case.
The jury is expected to begin deliberating today. If convicted, she could face more than 10 years in prison.
It is Gholikhan's second trial. Her first, where she had professional legal counsel and did not testify, ended in September with a deadlocked jury.
That's when Gholikhan decided to represent herself.
The U.S. Constitution guarantees criminal defendants that right, though many attorneys equate it to legal suicide.
Attorney Eric Schwartzreich, former president of the Broward Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said self-representation is a bad idea because defendants lack the training and expertise.
"If I had a pain in my chest, I wouldn't diagnose myself with lung cancer and give myself chemotherapy," Schwartzreich said.
Federal prosecutors accuse Gholikhan and her ex-husband, Mahmoud Seif, of trying to purchase military-grade night vision goggles for the Iranian government.
In 2004, the pair traveled to Vienna, Austria, where they obtained a sample device from a government informant posing as an arms broker. Austrian police arrested them after the meeting and both were subsequently released.
Seif remains at large. After U.S. efforts to extradite her failed, Gholikhan agreed to come to South Florida to face the charges, arriving one year ago.
Gholikhan speaks fluent English and holds a master's degree in business administration from a Dubai university. She has twin 12-year-old daughters who live in Tehran with her mother.
On the witness stand, Gholikhan insisted she acted only as Seif's translator in Vienna and "had no clue" before the meeting that his business dealings were illegal.
She described Seif, her second husband, as manipulative and abusive. He spied on her activities, secretly took other wives and threatened to kidnap her daughters if she ever defied him, Gholikhan said.
"I thought I loved him, but now, when I look back, I feared him so much," she said. "I was his slave."