ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
The prisoner swap earlier this month between Iran and the U.S. has many people celebrating, but not Nader Modanlo. Modanlo, an Iranian-American, was among the seven prisoners released by the U.S. Unlike the Americans who were held by Iran and came home, Modanlo, like the other prisoners released by the U.S., is staying here. He's a naturalized U.S. citizen, a 55-year-old former aerospace executive who first came to the U.S. to study in 1979. He was convicted in 2013 of illicit business dealings with Iran, specifically helping Iran to launch its first communications satellite into space. Mr. Modanlo was appealing his conviction and was hopeful that it would be reversed when news of the swap reached him at the federal prison in Petersburg, Va. And he joins us now in our studio here in Washington.
Welcome to the program.
NADER MODANLO: My pleasure. Thank you for the opportunity.
SIEGEL: Tell me about how you learned of the deal that was being offered to you and how much time you had to decide about it.
MODANLO: I believe it was the Thursday before the Sunday that I was released, and I was offered maybe a couple of hours to take the deal or leave it.
SIEGEL: Your reaction was?
MODANLO: I said, that's easy, I leave the deal. I am not taking this deal.
SIEGEL: Your first impulse was to turn down the deal.
MODANLO: Yes, sir.
MODANLO: The first requirement they asked of me, the Department of Justice, was that I should waive my right to appeal, an appeal that we have been pursuing for two years. And it was all finished, and we were only waiting for the decision by the Court of Appeals.
SIEGEL: When the prisoner deal, the swap, was announced, a senior U.S. government official speaking anonymously told reporters that Tehran had submitted a list early in the negotiations, the U.S. had whittled it down saying nobody with any terrorism connection should be allowed to go out, but the implication is that someone in Tehran said they wanted you to be freed. Why would they say that if they didn't regard you as their friend?
MODANLO: Obviously, I have no idea. But my name may have gotten to a list from the Iranian side because my sister, she has been calling every single Iranian official, members of the parliament, every single day.
SIEGEL: You think it's possible that your sister's efforts got you on an Iranian government list that you wouldn't have been on otherwise? Is that what you're saying?
MODANLO: If I was on any list, that's the only reason that I know of.
SIEGEL: The government claimed that you'd receive $10 million as a brokerage fee for helping put Iranians together with Russians so that they could launch a communication satellite. If it wasn't that, who gave you the $10 million?
MODANLO: A Swiss company loaned us the money to become our service provider. We intended to build a network of satellites all around the globe to offer telecommunication services. There is absolutely, absolutely nothing even close to evidence that anybody suggests this don't have anything to do with any satellite deal whatsoever - nothing.
SIEGEL: Did this bankrupt you, literally - the prosecution?
MODANLO: It literally and actually did bankrupt me, yes.
SIEGEL: You used to be head of a company that was - I've seen it valued at half a billion dollars, is that right?
MODANLO: That's correct, yes.
SIEGEL: What are you going to do now?
MODANLO: That's a very good question. My passion was to be in aerospace. Based on this allegation and this cloud over my head, I do not believe I can have a future in the one area that I know how to do, aerospace.
SIEGEL: Yeah. Given the misgivings you had about this deal, what was it that finally made you decide, despite what you didn't like about it, that you'd take the deal?
MODANLO: The impact - the emotional impact it had on my family, on my wife, on my daughter, my son and my sister. I couldn't bear that anymore so I took the deal because it was the right thing for my family.
SIEGEL: Nader Modanlo, thank you very much for talking with us today.
MODANLO: My pleasure, thank you for having me.
SIEGEL: Nader Modanlo is one of the seven people the U.S. released earlier this month as part of the prisoner swap with Iran.
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