American and Iranian flags
American and Iranian flagsiStock

Two men arrested last year for spying on Iranian dissidents in the United States have pleaded guilty to charges in a Washington court, the Justice Department announced Wednesday, according to AFP.

Iranian-US dual citizen Ahmadreza Mohammadi Doostdar and Majid Ghorbani, an Iranian resident of California, tried to penetrate the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), a group of Iranian dissidents in exile, in New York and Washington from 2017-2018, according to the department.

Doostdar traveled to the United States form Iran on three occasions to recruit Ghorbani and give him instructions and thousands of dollars in payments, according to the charges.

Ghorbani attended MEK rallies and events, taking pictures of participants and collecting information for Doostdar.

Doostdar pleaded guilty to charges of acting as an unregistered agent of the government of Iran, while Ghorbani pleaded guilty to violating US sanctions laws with respect to Iran, reported AFP.

In announcing their guilty pleas, the Justice Department did not repeat allegations made when the two were arrested that Doostdar had also surveilled Jewish Institutions in Chicago during a 2017 visit.

Doostdar faces up to 15 years in prison while Ghorbar could be jailed for a maximum 20 years.

"The Iranian government thought it could get away with conducting surveillance on individuals in the United States by sending one of its agents here to task a permanent resident with conducting and collecting that surveillance," said Jessie Liu, the US attorney for Washington.

"This case highlights our efforts to pursue those who threaten national security and disrupt foreign governments that target US persons."

Iran considers the Mujahideen-e Khalq to be a terrorist group that seeks the overthrow of the Islamic Republic. The group was listed in the past as a terrorist organization by the US, but was removed from the blacklist in 2012, angering Iran.

In 2017, a Pakistani man was convicted in Germany for spying for Iran. He was accused of gathering intelligence on Reinhold Robbe, the former head of the German-Israel Friendship Society, and an Israeli-French economics professor in Paris, for Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards.

News of his arrest first surfaced in 2016, when the German Federal Prosecutor announced that it had indicted him for espionage activity against “institutions and persons” in Germany on behalf of the Iranian regime from July, 2015 through July, 2016.

Following the incident, Germany summoned Iran’s ambassador to warn Tehran against spying on individuals and groups with close ties to Israel, calling such acts an unacceptable breach of German law.