Freewheeling Iranian-Swiss businessman Kamal Alavi is still behind bars in Evin Prison despite his sentence having come to an end.
In a report published today, HRANA news agency said the 61-year-old dual national was being held in connection with “disclosing confidential information of the Iranian Space Agency”.
A source told HRANA that the conditions for Alavi’s release are the payment of US$250 million and the transfer of the entire shareholding of his Switzerland-based company to the Iranian police and security agencies.
The exact date of Alavi’s arrest is not known, but he was last interviewed by Beheshti University on May 21, 2019. The dual national is understood to have worked for the Iranian government in the 1980s and later came to Switzerland penniless, before allegedly making a fortune in telecoms and electronic recycling.
A graduate in physics from the University of Texas, Alavi made waves in the tech sector in the mid-2000s after announcing that he had come up with a plan to render all cellphone towers in Switzerland defunct through the use of solar-powered airships.
His company, Stratxx, then announced in 2014 that it had launched a new tethered zeppelin, the so-called X-Tower, which was designed to carry telecoms payloads to broadcast digital TV and radio transmissions. Alavi said that his company had “clearly tested and proven that far less power is required to broadcast in this manner than current conventional methods”.
The Swiss telecoms sector was sceptical, and the project never got off the ground. Instead, Stratxx filed for bankruptcy in 2014 after all its assets were transferred to another company headed by Alavi, Swiss Space Sensors Technologies AG.
In September 2018, according to the Swiss newspaper Blick, Alavi was due to attend a court hearing linked to alleged bankruptcy and the non-payment of staff wages going back to 2013. The newspaper alleges that Alavi’s firms, which had begun life in an empty Lego factory before moving in 2008 to a disused military barracks in Kägiswil, had “never built an airship” at all – but left many partners who developed high-tech components for the firms frustrated and out of pocket.
It is not clear when or why Alavi travelled to Iran. But the source that spoke to HRANA said he had “been active in the introduction of advanced technology of military night-vision radars and space balloons in the country”. They added: “The General Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces has accused him of disclosing Iran's secret space information.”