Reprinted from NewsMax.com
Spying on Iran:Penetrating a Mysterious Regime
Kenneth R. Timmerman
Friday, May 12,2006
An Iranian opposition group hasasked a French court to dismiss fraud charges against three of itsmembers, claiming that they are victims of an Iranian governmentintelligence operation.
"The disagreement between us and the Islamic Republic is the olddispute between the Iranian opposition and the regime," a leader ofthe Organization of the People's Fedaii Guerillas of Iran (OPFGI)wrote to the French judge this week. "Our conflict with the regimewill not be settled outside of our country ... I hope that Europeangovernments would show a better understanding of the situation inIran, and above all, that they would stop defending a feudalpower."
At stake is $12.4 million an Iranian government bank claims theopposition activists embezzled from their Paris branch, but also theability of the Iranian opposition to operate freely in France.
The case also provides a window on the extraordinary intelligence warunder way for more than two decades between the Islamic Republic ofIran and a sophisticated opponent that has bribed, corrupted, andtricked top regime officials.
French lawyers for the Iranian government-owned Bank Sepah (ArmyBank) claim the bank was swindled by a currency trading office inParis that was established by the OPFGI as a cover for illicitactivities.
In an extraordinarily detailed letter to the French judge, obtainedby Newsmax, the OPFGI leader acknowledged that he had established thecurrency office as a cover, but claimed the money was transferredinto secret accounts controlled by Iranian officials as part of anopposition effort to penetrate the regime and gather intelligence onits arms procurement networks in Europe.
"I even gave orders to return 13 million French francsbelonging to the Iranian embassy to Hamid Reza Assefi, the ambassadorof the Islamic Republic of Iran in Paris," he wrote the judge. Worthapproximately $2.5 million at the time of the operation in 1995, themoney had been deposited with the group's currency exchange office,Sedigi.
"The only reason we returned this money was because I did not want tohave a financial dispute with the Iranian regime in France."
The OPFGI leader, who goes only by the nom de guerre, "Bahram,"detailed three assassination attempts against him he believes werecarried out by intelligence agents sent by the Iranian regime to killhim.
"The Iranian regime calls these intelligence agents "unknown soldiersof the 12th Imam," he said, explaining that the phrase was a play onwords. "These ‘unknown soldiers' are all secret agents. Becausethey are ‘unknown,' they can carry out any crime with completeimpunity."
The Marxist-oriented Organization of the People's Fedayeen Guerillasof Iran was already at war with the Iranian government of the Shah.The group's leader, Bahram, spent five years in the Shah's prisons inthe 1970s, where he got to know members of the future, Islamicregime.
He and other leaders of the group fled Iran in the early 1980s, afterthe takeover of Ayatollah Khomeini. Accepted in France as a politicalrefugee, Bahram went to work as a currency trader and later set upfront companies he used to entrap top regime officials and to gatherintelligence on their activities.
Two months before the assassination of former Iranian prime ministerShahpour Bakhttiar in August 1991, Bahram told the Direction de laSurveillance du Territoire – the French counter-espionageservice, known by its initials, DST – that the Iranian regimehad placed a mole in Bakhtiar's office.
"We told the DST that this man, Fereidoun Boyer-Ahmadi, was getting$1000 per month from the Islamic Republic embassy in Paris," he toldNewsmax in an interview. "Our currency exchange bureau, Sedigi,changed the money for him at a very good rate," he added.
Boyer-Ahmadi was later accused by the French government of complicityin Bakhtiar's murder, but fled the country before he could bearrested.
The OPFGI disrupted Iranian regime operations in Europe by launchinga series of commando-style raids on Iranian embassies and consulates,during which they seized highly-classified intelligence documents andmade them public.
Many of the documents published by the OPFGI from Iranian embassiesin France, Belgium, Germany, Norway, Holland and the regime'sconsulate in Geneva, Switzerland, involved secret arms deals and bankaccounts used by regime officials to stash money they had received ascommissions and bribes. The group has also published lists of Iraniangovernment intelligence operatives, many of them working under coverin Iran Air or as carpet merchants.
In his letter to the French judge, Bahram revealed that he has led "aclandestine life" for the past thirty-six years. "Naturally, therevolutionary struggle imposes on me a certain life style. I dowithout many things and appear rarely in public places," he wrote."When I enter into a relationship with someone, it is only within theframework of my political responsibilities and to achieve my goals,nothing else, especially if that person is a member of the regime –a regime whose members all graduated from schools ofcriminality."
In the mid-1990s, Bahram explained, he sought to cultivate themanager of the Bank Sepah in Paris, Heydayat Ashtari Larki. "Ilearned that he was a member of the Islamic Revolutionary GuardsCorps of Iran& and that he had just been appointed as number twofor Iranian intelligence in France."
As their relationship developed, Bahram learned that Ashtari Larki'swife's family in Iran wanted to buy a house but was short of money,so he asked members of his group in Iran to raise the money so theycould make the purchase. "Thus, by financing the purchase of a housein Iran for the family of an ‘unknown soldier' of the regime, Imanaged to consolidate my relationship with Ashtari," he wrote theFrench judge.
Ashtari became a key informant, and provided the opposition groupwith intelligence on regime arms purchases. "In Room number 222 ofthe Hotel Concorde Lafayette in Paris, he was a member of the groupthat negotiated the purchase of Rasit radar" from a French defensecontractor.
Fearing his colleagues in Iranian intelligence had learned of hisinvolvement with the opposition group, Ashtari fled France and joinedBahram and other OPFGI activists in Spain, where he remained for ayear. In July 1996, Bahram published information on the Rasit radarpurchase, as well as documents Ashtari had obtained on a scheme bythe Bank Sepah in Paris to take hundreds of millions of dollars ofprecious stones on deposit, using them as collateral to open lines ofcredit to purchase aircraft and weaponry from France.
In another scheme that formed the basis of the Bank Sepah lawsuitagainst Bahram and his opposition group, Ashtari explained that "asenior regime leader" had earned $8 million in commissions on thedeals with France and wanted to send them to Iran. "He asked if wecould carry out this operation," Bahram wrote the French judge.
On orders from Tehran, he explained, Bahram had the Sedigi currencyexchange office send the money, $2 million at a time, to a variety ofdifferent bank accounts in Switzerland and elsewhere around theworld, before eventually sending it to accounts in Tehran.
In Iran, we have a proverb," Bahram explained to the judge: ‘aliar has no memory.'" Thus, before each transfer, Sedigi providedBank Sepah with a $2 million check as guarantee. But once they wentto the French court, the bank "forget to say that after eachoperation, they returned our security deposit" without everattempting to cash them. "The lawyer for the Bank Sepah, who receivessubstantial payments from the Iranian regime, tries to say nothingabout this, because he knows that he would be lying."
Bahram also revealed that a company owned by two Americans and aPakistani, Aura Investment, paid a commission of 750,000 Frenchfrancs (around $150,000) to the Bank Sepah through the group'scurrency trading office, which the OPFGI used to purchase anapartment in Paris for the Iranian bank manager to further corrupthim.
The French court handed down a one-year suspended sentence againstBahram and two other OPFGI activists in 2002 for their actionsagainst the Bank Sepah and froze several million dollars of propertyand bank accounts belonging to the group in France and inSwitzerland.
Bahram apologized to the French judge for not personally appearing incourt, but explained that he feared that regime agents wouldassassinate him if they could discover his true identity.
Richard Hailey, of the Indianapolis-based lawfirm Ramey and Hailey,met Bahram in Europe recently in connection with a lawsuit he andother firms are pursuing against the Islamic Republic of Iran for itsalleged involvement in the September 11 attacks on America.
"I was absolutely fascinated by Bahram," he told Newsmax. "He wascareful, but detailed. Listening to him was tantalizing - likereading a book that's so good you can't stop turning the pages. Hereis somebody who operates beneath the radar screen, a real pro. Youfelt he would just vanish into thin air the minute he walked out ofthe room."