As the trial approaches of an Iranian ambassador accused of plotting an act of terrorism approaches, new details on the case have come to light.
Assadollah Assadi, formerly the third secretary at the Iranian Embassy in Vienna, who is accused of plotting to bomb a rally organized by the Iranian dissident group the People's Mojahedin Organization (MEK) in Paris on June 30, 2018, is due to face trial on November 27. Now reports by the United Kingdom’s The Sunday Times and the Express published on November 14 and November 15 say Assadi handed over an explosive device and a detonator to an Iranian couple at a Pizza Hut in Luxembourg prior to the event. A detonation and bomb defuse manual was also found in his car. Both newspapers published a photograph of the diplomat as he entered the restaurant, allegedly disguised as a tourist.
The reports say in July 2018, Assadi had traveled by car from Germany to Luxembourg. Dressed in a T-shirt, a straw hat, and with a camera around his neck, he bore no resemblance to a diplomat.
During his meeting with the Iranian couple, named as Amir Sadouni and Nasimeh Naami, Assadollah Assadi handed them a package containing explosives, which was hidden inside a pizza box, along with about 12,000 euros in cash. The Iranian couple have pleaded guilty to collaborating with Assadi and receiving a package from him but say they did not know it contained explosives.
The bomb was due to be planted at the annual meeting of the MEK, rebranded as the National Council of Resistance of Iran, in Paris, but French agents foiled the plot. Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, spoke at the event, calling for regime change. Other high-profile United States politicians were also present.
Security and intelligence agents were monitoring the meeting from outside the Pizza Hut, part of a wider European intelligence operation that had been ongoing for months and that led to the arrest of Assadollah Assadi on July 1, 2018, as he traveled from Germany to Austria, where he was entitled to diplomatic immunity. He was extradited to Belgium, where his arrest warrant had been issued. The Iranian couple is also in custody in Belgium.
Peyman Saadat, who was at the time Iran’s ambassador to Belgium, said that for a period after Assadi's arrest, he met him in prison every week, and that after each visit, prison officials searched him. It is thought that Saadat and other Iranian officials stopped the prison visits with the diplomat due to the continued inspections. According to Saadat, Asaadi is currently held in prison in comfortable conditions.
Assadi Threatens Investigating Authorities
Shortly before the date of Assadi's trial was announced, Reuters reported it had obtained a copy of the text of his interrogation, in which he reportedly threatened Belgian officials that his trial was being monitored by various groups and if he was handed down a heavy sentence, Belgium could expect retaliation. He did not specify to which “groups” he was referring.
But Asaadi's lawyer denied his client had issued such threats. Iranian foreign ministry officials in Tehran also denied the claim, but the media continued to report on them.
Diplomatic immunity allows diplomats, as foreign officials in the host country, to engage in diplomatic activity without the prospect of their residence, office, or vehicles being searched, and without having to face any trial or prosecution in the host country. However, diplomatic immunity is not absolute and is only applicable as long as the activities of the diplomat fall within the framework of diplomatic rules. If a diplomat abuses this immunity and commits unlawful and criminal acts, his immunity can be revoked and he or she can face prosecuted.
When Assadollah Assadi was arrested at the request of Belgium, Austria revoked his diplomatic immunity and laid the ground for his prosecution after investigating agents provided Austria with evidence against him.
Ali Majedi, Iran’s former ambassador to Germany, described the evidence against Assadi as robust, conceding that it could not be easily rejected or dismissed.
Over the last four decades, there have been a number of allegations leveled against Iranian diplomats by the countries where they have been based, including claims that these diplomats were engaged in activities outside the diplomatic realm, or that they carried out criminal acts. Such claims have emerged from European countries, sometimes resulting in the diplomat’s expulsion from the country, but other countries have also accused Iranian diplomats of illegal behavior while based there.
For example, Iranian diplomats were charged with planning the assassination of dissidents in Turkey aided by Iranian agents, and with the attempted assassination of official guests of the Omani government in Muscat in the 1990s. The incident in Turkey led to the expulsion of Manouchehr Mottaki, who was then Iranian ambassador in Ankara. News of the attempted assassination in Oman reached Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who was Iranian president at the time, via a special envoy of Sultan Qaboos, King of Oman. The debacle led to the diplomat in question being summoned, according to Rafsanjani’s memoirs. In recent months, the Dutch government has expelled diplomats from the Islamic Republic on charges of complicity in the assassination of anti-Iranian dissidents in the Netherlands.
Despite this record of criminal activity carried out by Iranian diplomats, Assadollah Assadi is the first diplomat to be arrested and tried on such a serious charge. If Assadi was an opponent of the Islamic Republic and was convicted on the same charge in Iran, he would certainly face the death penalty. Given that Belgium law does not provide for such punishment, Assadi’s life will be spared, though he likely faces a long time in prison.