The head of America's biggest nuclear power plant construction project was fired last week after he lied about having a financial hardship in order to get $1.8 million from a future TVA bonus fund, according to court records.
Masoud Bajestani, formerly one of TVA's top nuclear managers who was overseeing the construction of the Unit 2 reactor, admitted in a divorce proceeding that he made early hardship withdrawals from his deferred compensation account because he wanted to invest money in his native Iran.
An appellate court ruled last year that Bajestani falsely claimed to need the money for housing when he actually sent $600,000 to his brother-in-law in Iran. The transfers were made through a Canadian bank around the time that Bajestani's second wife, Maryam Ghorashi-Bajestani, sued him for divorce.
"(Bajestani) did not need the money," Tennessee Court of Appeals Judge D. Michael Swiney ruled in a 31-page divorce ruling last year. "At trial, he admitted that he did not have a financial hardship at the time he made the withdrawal."
Bajestani testified he wanted to earn more money through investments in Iran.
"The dollar was losing its value, and I had this opportunity to invest some money outside the U.S. and specifically buy some property back in Tehran, Iran," Bajestani said during his divorce trial in 2008. "So I decided to withdraw the money and invest it outside the U.S."
By withdrawing the money early under false pretenses, Bajestani had to pay taxes on it and he appears to have violated TVA's rules for such bonus and retirement plans.
Bajestani and his divorce attorney, John Meldorf, were unavailable Wednesday. According to the Hamilton County Register of Deeds, Bajestani sold his Chattanooga home in November for $440,000.
TVA spokesman Scott Brooks said Wednesday that Bajestani's departure "is a personnel matter we don't discuss."
But he said the dismissal was not related to Bajestani's performance at the Watts Bar plant and that changing leadership shouldn't delay the expected startup of the new reactor by late 2012.
Under the U.S. sanctions against Iran, Bajestani's investments also could be questionable, although Bajestani said he sent money to his family in Iran and should be able to get it back.
According to the U.S. Treasury Department, Americans' transactions and investments in Iran are limited. The United States and its allies have imposed increasingly stricter sanctions against Iran, which the U.S. says is trying to produce a nuclear weapon. Iran says its nuclear activities are peaceful.
Bajestani moved to the United States from Iran in 1975 and holds dual citizenship. As site vice president in charge of the $2.5 billion Watts Bar Nuclear Plant construction program, Bajestani was paid $619,000 by last year and was eligible for extra bonuses if the TVA project is finished on time and on budget.