Professor Masoud Soleimani and two assistants were planning to complete the final stage of their research on treating stroke patients at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. After nine months of work, however, Mr Soleimani is being controversially held in a detention centre near Atlanta. American prosecutors say the attempted transport of proteins – which reportedly count as biological material – from the US to Iran was illegal under current sanctions.
The trio could face 20 years in prison for the offence – although Professor Soleimani's two assistants, Mahboobe Ghaedi and Maryam Jazayeri, are likely to be exempt from punishment as they live in the US.
They are currently free on bond, and will hope to face separate trials for any charges levelled against them.
Professor Soleimani’s lawyer argued that under current sanctions on Iran – which are crippling Tehran’s economy – the desired proteins would be a fifth of the price in the US.
The scientist originally planned to take advantage of Ms Jazayeri’s visit to Iran in 2016, and instructed her to bring over the material for his research.
Rouhani and Trump have been trading combative words in recent weeks (Image: GETTY)
Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan was an Iranian nuclear scientist allegedly murdered by a Western plot (Image: GETTY)
Professor Soleimani’s former student was found out, however, and an indictment was placed under seal on the