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Swedish Iranian Brothers Charged in Fresh European Espionage Case

November 22, 2021
Kambiz Ghafouri
7 min read
Swedish Iranian Brothers Charged in Fresh European Espionage Case

On September 23, 2021, the National Security Unit of the Swedish Public Prosecutor's Office, submitted a request for the arrest of an Iranian-Swedish citizen to a judge in Stockholm. The accused was Peyman Kia, now 41 years old and a former head of Swedish security police. The charge was "gross and unlawful abuse of position and access to classified information in breach of national security”. Later, this turned to espionage.

More recently on November 18, Swedish newspapers also reported that Kia’s brother Payam was also facing spying charges. Their case is the latest in a series of similar incidents in Sweden over the past few years.

A Complex Case With Minimal Transparency

Both men grew up in Sweden. Peyman Kia was born in Tehran in September 1980 and his family emigrated to the Scandinavian country in 1985. Prosecutors are understood to have initially considered the charge of espionage for Peyman, but technical-legal issues – including the need for justification to keep him detained under investigation – compelled the lesser charge. The judge issued an arrest warrant on September 23, later extended to October 7 and finally October 21. During this time, Peyman's charge was changed back to espionage.

On November 18, Payam Kia was also charged with espionage in connection with the same little-known case. He was due to appear in court on Friday, November 19, for a final decision on his continued detention. Payam was born in August 1987.

Swedish Iranian Brothers Charged in Fresh European Espionage Case

Part of the indictment issued in Sweden against the Kia brothers

All we know about this case so far is that Peyman Kia has a background in the Swedish security police and military institutions. The indictment referred to some of his former roles between 2011 and 2015. In recent years he has also worked in the security divisions of other entities related to the food industry.

Swedish Iranian Brothers Charged in Fresh European Espionage Case

A picture of Peyman Kia circulated in Swedish media

Both Peyman and Payam’s lawyers have so far maintained their clients’ innocence. Swedish officials have not yet released details of the case and have not even explicitly said whether the charge of espionage is related to the Islamic Republic of Iran. There is a chance, however, that their arrests form part of a security crackdown on the Islamic Republic’s presence in Sweden, ongoing since 2018.

A String of High-Level Interruptions

The year 2018 was possibly unique in the 43-year history of the Islamic Republic in terms of the blow dealt to Iranian intelligence and security assets. In summer, a half-ton pile of Iranian nuclear documents was spirited out of Tehran by Israeli Mossad agents in just six hours and 29 minutes. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later said the documents contained 55,000 pages and digital files of information on Iran's military nuclear program, spread across 183 CDs. Following initial denials, officials in the Islamic Republic, including Hassan Rouhani and Mohsen Rezaei, eventually acknowledged the theft in public.

Exactly two months after Netanyahu presented the documents, an Iranian diplomat was arrested in Germany on charges of organizing a terrorist operation in Europe. Asadollah Asadi, the third secretary of the Islamic Republic's embassy in Austria, had conspired with three other Iranians in Europe to bomb an upcoming Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK) rally in Paris.

The diplomat drove from Austria to Luxembourg, delivering the bag containing the bomb to his accomplices, Nasimeh Naami and Amir Saadouni, who were supposed to take it to the French capital. Nasimeh and Amir were arrested in Belgium while their other co-conspirator, Mehrdad Arefani, was arrested in France. The security services of Austria, Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium and France cooperated in this operation. But the tip-off about the plot had come from outside Europe. came from a non-European security service. For more details on this operation, see our comprehensive report The Diplomat Bomber, Mysterious Notebooks and Turbulent Dreams.

Swedish Iranian Brothers Charged in Fresh European Espionage Case

From right: Asadollah Asadi, Nasimeh Naami, Mehrdad Arefani and Amir Saadouni

Repercussions in Scandinavia

In the fall of 2018, Scandinavian security forces were preparing to detect and thwart another operation. They had received a credible report that in retaliation for a terror attack on the domestic Ahvaz parade on September 22, Tehran intended to strike at the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz (ASMLA) on Danish soil.

The Nordic countries’ security forces shared resources and prepared to strike as one. On September 28, 2018, the Oresund Bridge between Sweden and Denmark was closed with special security measures. It came shortly after the theft of a black Volvo V90, license plate number ZBP-546, from Malmo Airport and the car’s ensuing departure for Denmark.

A few days later on October 21, 2018, an Iranian-Norwegian citizen named Mohammad Davoudzadeh Loloei, who had landed on a flight from Tehran to Sweden's Gothenburg Airport was arrested by Swedish security agents. Loloei had been tasked with surveillance of Habib Jabbar, one of the leaders of the ASMLA, ahead of a planned assassination. Loloei was finally extradited to Denmark and sentenced to seven years in prison. You can read our full report on this remarkable episode here.

Swedish Iranian Brothers Charged in Fresh European Espionage Case

Danish police on the Orsund Bridge between Sweden and Denmark. Credit: Nils Meilvang/Ritzau Scanpix

Information leading to the interception and arrest of both Asadollah Asadi and Mohammad Davoudzadeh Loloei is widely understood to have been based on documents provided by Mossad to European agencies. Hans Jürgen Bonichsen, former director of the Danish PET intelligence service, told the Danish network DR that it was rare for one country’s intelligence service to make such a claim against another’s, because of the potential for diplomatic fallout. In this case, he said, the evidence provided was so compelling the PET took the decision to make the case public.

Swedish Iranian Brothers Charged in Fresh European Espionage Case

Jailed: Mohammad Davoudzadeh Loloei

Other Arrests in Sweden

On April 6, 2021, Swedish security police also arrested two people named Salma Khormaei and Fouad Malekshahi on charges of planning a terrorist attack in the country. The pair had arrived in Europe along with a tens of thousands-strong wave of asylum seekers in 2015, and had presented themselves as Afghan nationals aged 22 and 24. Six years later, the Swedish security service, SÄPO, determined that their ages, nationalities and possibly even names were false; their real names are Fereshteh Sanaei Farid and Mehdi Ramezani, and both have since been arrested on terror-related charges. They were reported to have been sent to Europe for the purpose of terrorism and became “dormant” cells to be activated if necessary. Swedish police have yet to publicly identify who sent them. You can read our early digest of their case here.

Swedish Iranian Brothers Charged in Fresh European Espionage Case

The Swedish residence cards of “Fouad Malekshahi” and “Salma Khormaei”

IranWire has also previously reported on a number of other arrests in Sweden linked to espionage for the Islamic Republic. On October 30, 2018 – around the same time as Loloei’s arrest – a 46-year-old Iraqi-born Swedish citizen named Raghdan Al-Hraishawi was detained. He was jailed for two and a half years the following December for spying on exiled members of the ASMLA.

Swedish Iranian Brothers Charged in Fresh European Espionage Case

Raghdan al-Hraishawi’s trial in Stockholm under police protection in December 2019

Peyman and Payam Kia: What Happens Now?

As mentioned, barely any information has been shared by the Swedish authorities on the case of the Kia brothers. It is not even stated on whose behalf the alleged espionage took place; the charges relate to a four-year period more than half a decade ago.

It is now undeniable, however, that a large network of agents working on behalf of the Islamic Republic have been deployed in Scandinavian countries. The Swedes are aware of this; the latest report by the Swedish Security Service specifically warned of a projected increase in Iranian espionage activity.

In January 2021, after Asadollah Asadi was jailed for 20 years for his part in the Paris bomb plot, I received information about part of the notebooks found in his car when he was arrested. The content related to the activities of the Islamic Republic in northern Europe; though the full list of payments made and beneficiaries has yet to be public knowledge, it is understood to be very extensive. Recent actions by SÄPO and other Swedish bodies indicate officials may now be armed with new information – and more focused than ever before on countering Iranian espionage within their borders.

Related coverage:

Coercion by a Thousand Proxies: How Iran Targets Dissidents in Sweden

The Diplomat Bomber, Mysterious Notebooks and Turbulent Dreams

Terrorist Diplomat's Sentence Finalized in Belgian Court

Iran’s Intelligence Ministry has a History of Terrorism in Europe

Mohammad Davoudzadeh Loloei, a Terror Plot and Lessons Europe Learned

New Iran Terror Suspects in Sweden: 'Refugees' With Fake Nationalities


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