The two trials couldn’tbe more dissimilar, and it’s not because our legal systems aredifferent.
In federal district court in Washington, D.C., this morning, anIranian torture victim will be seeking justice against Iranianleaders, whom he alleges were legally responsible for the jailorswho¬Ýhanged him upside down during interrogation sessionsand beat him repeatedly on the soles of the feat with an electriccable.
In the Tribunal de Grande Instance in Paris on February 22, a Frenchcourt will rule on a complaint filed by the Government of Iran andthe government-owned Bank Sepah against three Iranian oppositionactivists whose assets have been frozen since 1995 after theyinfiltrated the bank and got the Paris bank manager to defect.
The case in Washington, D.C., names as defendants the formerpresident of Iran, Hojjat-ol eslam Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, thesmiling turban many Democrats in Congress are promoting as a leaderwe can do business with, and Ali Akbar Fallahian Khuzestani, theformer head of Iran’s intelligence service.
It has been brought by the Mission for Establishment of Human Rightsin Iran (MEHR IRAN), a non-profit group in California,onbehalf of torturevictim Gholam Nikbin.
While it is too early to know how Judge John Bates will rule in thiscase, what’s certain is that the U.S. justice system honors thevictims of torture and of state-sponsored terrorism.
What’s certain in the French case is the monumental cynicism ofthe French government of Jacques Chirac, which has cozied up to themullahs in Tehran and done their bidding ever since Mr. Chirac wasfirst elected in 1995.
In Washington, victims of Iranian terror will get their day in court.In Paris, they will be prosecuted.
At one point, the Iranian regime hired as their lawyer to pursue theopposition activists the daughter of Chirac crony and formerTransportation minister, Bernard Pons.
It would be hard to find a more clear-cut case of a politicalshow-trial, which the French have put on as a friendly gesture to theIslamic Republic of Iran.
The defendants in Paris are leaders of a non-violent Marxist group,the People’s Fedaii Guerilllas. The Fedaii have a strong trackrecord of activism against the regime. While I find their ideologyfoolish, they are a legitimate political force inside Iran and haveshown their willingness to work in a coalition with other non-violentIranian political groups to help bring down a murderous regime.
They have also demonstrated extraordinary skill at penetrating theregime’s intelligence and money-laundering networks, and thatis why the regime – and the French – are determined tocrush them.
In 1998, they briefly seized the Iranian consulate in Geneva (no onewas hurt and no weapons were used), and called television newscameras to the scene as they dumped Top Secret documents out thewindows.
In other operations, they have acquired internal regime documentsthat expose the corruption of top officials, including evidence theyturned over to the United Nations Security Council in 1996 thatrevealed secret oil deals between the Iranian Revolutionary GuardsCorps and Saddam Hussein, in violation of the UN oil embargo. Thiswas the beginning of the UN Oil for Food scandal.
One of the documents, which I reproduced in the appendix toCountdownto Crisis, was abank guarantee from the Union de Banques Arabes et Françaisesin Paris, showing that the Revolutionary Guards sold a shipment ofIraqi oil to the Al Shamal Islamic Bank in Sudan, in which Osama binLaden had an ownership stake.
Not only was Saddam cooperating with the Iranian RevolutionaryGuards, but both of them had a business relationship with Osama BinLaden in the mid-1990s. (And yes, the CIA missed that one, just asthey have missed so much else.)
In 1998, the Fedaii provided the Israeli government with informationon five Israeli soldiers held by Hezbollah in South Lebanon on ordersof the Iranian regime, and were thanked publicly by the father ofYehuda Katz (one of the five).
In 1995, the manager of the Paris branch of Bank Sepah defected tothe Fedaii, bringing with him documents that revealed how the Iraniangovernment was using the bank to pay commissions on arms and aircraftdeals.
Some of the documents were highly embarrassing for the Frenchgovernment. One set detailed negotiations to purchase RASITground-surveillance radar from Thomson-CSF. Others provided detailsof negotiations for three Airbus A330 airliners.
Information provided by the bank manager indicated that thesecontracts included large kickbacks paid to Iranian governmentofficials –standard practice for the Iranians. (In December2006, AFP reported¬ÝthatFrench energy giant Total was under investigation by a French courtover allegations it paid $80 million in bribes to obtain a $2 billioncontract to develop the South Pars gas field in 1997).
The bank manager also revealed that the Iranian regime was using BankSepah to launder hundreds of millions of dollars through frontcompanies it controlled in Guernsey and the British Virgin Islands,and to finance purchases from North Korea via a shadowy World Bank ofChrist the Saviour Cathedral that was controlled by a naturalizedFrench citizen of Russian origin.
To shut down these tremendously damaging leaks, the Iranian embassysued in a Paris court, alleging that the bank manager, HedayatAshtari Larki, embezzled $12,399,450 from the bank. The Frenchgovernment then agreed to file criminal charges against Ashtari Larkiand three Fedaii leaders.
On Nov. 21, 2002, at the request of Bank Sepah, the 12th Chamber ofthe Tribunal of Grande Instance de Paris handed down a defaultjudgment against the three Fedaii members for fraud. The courtordered them to pay damages and interests, seized their property, andgave them one year suspended sentences.
The French court acknowledged the political nature of the case. “Theonly certitudes [of the case] stem from a technicalevaluation” of banking documents “made in the depositionof Mr. Berte, advisor and second director of the Bank Sepah,”the court stated.
In other words, the French court jailed and seized the property of anIranian opposition group, solely based on the claims of the Iranianregime.
The Bank Sepah used to operate several branches in the United States,but was effectively shut down several years ago. Just last month, theTreasury Department identifiedBank Sepah as “the financial linchpin of Iran's missileprocurement network,”¬Ýand enacted new regulationsaimed at cutting off their access to the international financialsystem.
The U.S. move came in response to UN Security Council resolution1737, which called on UN members to ban financial transactions thatcould assist Iran’s nuclear and missile programs.
Yet in France, the Chirac government is not only allowing Bank Sepahto continue to operate unfettered. It is helping the bank to crush alegitimate opposition group through the French courts at the sametime Chirac is seekingto sabotage the Iransanctions.
Memo to French presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy: Here is asimple, cost-free gesture you can make that will increase pressure onthe regime in Tehran, win friends in Washington and Tel Aviv, whilenot jeopardizing the national interests of France.
Call your friends at the Ministry of Justice and ask them to quashthe Bank Sepah case.
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