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Accused rapist awaits trial after decades.

An Iranian-American who fled back home a quarter-century ago after he was charged in Tennessee with raping an 11-year-old student is now free on bond after federal authorities abruptly dismissed a passport fraud charge against him.

He still faces trial on the state rape charge.

Just three days after mounting a case for the continued jailing of Jahangir (John) Shafighi on a charge of lying to renew his US passport while on the lam, Assistant US Attorney Bart Slabbekorn filed a motion to drop the charge.

The prosecutor said in his motion that further probing cast doubt on the government's case. He did not elaborate. "Based on newly discovered information, [the prosecution] concludes the evidence is insufficient to proceed," Slabbekorn said.

Shafighi, a 58-year-old civil engineer, was attending graduate school at the University of Tennessee and operating a martial arts school for children when, in 1992, he allegedly raped an 11-year-old student over an eight-month period.

He was indicted in 1994, arrested and posted a $30,000 bond. He then fled to Iran. He twice renewed his passport at American embassies in the Middle East. Shafighi was accused in the federal case of lying that he was not a fugitive in a 2007 passport renewal application.

Last May, the US Marshals Service arrested him in Atlanta as he disembarked from a plane from Mexico. His arrest after 24 years showed that the federal authorities never ceased looking for him.

The sole basis of the federal charge was a question on the passport renewal form and Shafighi's answer to it. The question routinely appears in the document but renewal forms are updated on occasion. If the question was inadvertently left off the 2007 version, then Slabbekorn could not make a case of passport fraud. The law would require him to seek a dismissal. Another possibility is that Shafighi simply did not check the box and no one noticed his failure to do so.

Shafighi, who had been jailed in the federal case, is free under a $350,000 bond set by a Tennessee court in the rape case. Unlike in the federal system, the accused in Tennessee state courts are entitled to bond, whether they can afford to post it or not, even if, like Shafighi, they were on the lam.

Knox County Assistant District Attorney Joanie Stewart has fought to keep Shafighi locked up on the rape indictment pending trial, but Shafighi's attorney convinced the judge to use ankle monitoring and house arrest in addition to bond.

Shafighi has homes in Iran, Canada and the United Arab Emirates, runs a construction business in Toronto and heads up a non-profit in Iran on sustainable building practices. He posted the $350,000 bond, and Isaacs has said his wife is now renting a home in Knoxville.

But US Magistrate Judge Bruce Guyton had refused--at Slabbekorn's urging'--to grant Shafighi freedom in the federal case. Slabbekorn argued Shafighi had no cause to stick around for trial either in the federal case or the rape case.

Caption: SHAFIGHI ... 1992 charges

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Title Annotation:Diaspora: Around the globe
Publication:Iran Times International (Washington, DC)
Date:Mar 3, 2017
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