South American Country Denies Passports to Iranians

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As we have seen in previous posts, Iran has demonstrated time and again its sophisticated integration of diplomacy – tools and personnel – with its broader strategic aims.

When it comes to what we’ll loosely refer to as “South America,” it was clear throughout the Ahmadinejad administration that this region was “among the top priorities of the Islamic Republic’s foreign policy“. Indeed, during this period Tehran opened new missions in Colombia, Nicaragua, Chile, Ecuador, Uruguay and Bolivia and expanded embassies in Cuba, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Venezuela.

But as we’ve already seen in the case of Georgia, for instance, Tehran’s abuse can only go so far. It was recently taught this lesson again in its relations with St. Kitts-Nevis, an island country not far from Puerto Rico, which recently announced it would stop issuing passports to Iranians.

Its prime minister emphasized that the move is intended to protect the integrity of an investment program designed to prevent transnational organized crime and other illicit acts. Readers probably get his point…

The decision by St. Kitts-Nevis demonstrates an understanding that Tehran’s version of diplomacy is never far removed from the more violent agendas led by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its elite Qods force. This connection was again confirmed, in the South American context, in the May 2013 report by Argentinian prosecutor Alberto Nisman.

According to Nisman, Iran had successfully infiltrated dozens of South American countries on many levels in which connections with rulers and diplomats were supplemented with ties to revolutionary factions within the countries – while its subversion  operatives reached deep down to promote their aims.

Nisman’s list of Iran-infiltrated countries includes Argentina, Venezuela, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile, Colombia, Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago and Suriname.  Just in the neighborhood of St. Kitts-Nevis.

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Passport Forging in the Service of the Islamic Republic

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Behind the Headlines

About two weeks ago an Iranian national, Seyed Ramin Miraziz Paknejad, was arrested in Kuala Lumpur on suspicion of forging passports and visas for Tehran-backed terrorism and human trafficking organizations. Paknejad’s forgery syndicate operated for about five years in Thailand and sold more than 3,000 counterfeit travelling documents (making him a rich man, with estimated profits of approximately $3 million).

On the face of it, just another criminal opportunist. But no, take a closer look: turns out that Paknejad was part of Iran’s well-documented abuse of diplomatic privileges and instruments for very non-diplomatic activities.

In fact, Paknejad has been implicated in forging passports for the bombers in the botched Iranian terrorist attempt in Thailand back in February 2012, which led to the arrest of five Iranian nationals – including Paknejad himself, who managed to subsequently flee to Malaysia. There he will now be charged for entering the country on a forged Turkish passport, but will probably be extradited back to Thailand to face charges for his involvement in the terrorist plot.

Links Between Diplomacy, Terrorism and the Regime

From the initial evidence, it seems that Paknejad’s involvement with human trafficking was not directly related to the Iranian regime, but his work for Iranian terrorism definitely was. Tehran is known for this familiar mixing of diplomacy, crime and terrorism – as demonstrated  by its 2011 attempt to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the US. Indeed, the Bangkok terrorist incident was one of three other such attempts during the same period – in India, Georgia and Kenya – with the elite IRGC-Qods forces the common denominator. The Paknejad money trail is certainly bad news for the regime’s cover-up efforts.

Suspicions of the involvement of Iranian diplomacy in subversion activities surface regularly.  So while Iran’s diplomats in Thailand have yet to be directly implicated, the trail of evidence could very well lead to the doors of its Bangkok embassy in the near future. Stay tuned.

 

Update August 22nd: Thai court sentences Iranian terrorist, Saeid Moradi. to  life in prison for the attempted murder of Israeli diplomats. Hi accomplice, Mohammad Khazaei, was sentenced to 15 year in prison.

Georgia Stops Iran’s Revolving Diplomatic Door

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Iran has consistently demonstrated its preference for the guise of diplomacy and its tools to overcome challenges created by its nuclear-crisis isolation. This has certainly been the case in Germany, a country which has a disproportionately large Iranian infrastructure and from which it controls subversive activities within Europe. Africa is another region of focus for Tehran in this context, particularly uranium-rich countries such as Zimbabwe.

This blog has already reviewed several cases of Iran’s abuse of diplomatic privilege. This time we’ll look at Georgia.

As of July 1st 2013, “Georgia has unilaterally revoked visa-free travel regime with Iran” that was implemented back in 2010. During the three years that this diplomatic tool – standard among friendly countries – was in place, trade between Iran and Georgia increased by 70%. Travel grew by 420%. And the number of registered Iranian companies in Georgia skyrocketed from “a few dozen to 1,489“.

Such developments were to be expected, in view of Tehran’s dire diplomatic straits against the backdrop of the nuclear crisis. So, too, this development:  the Iranian nationals who heavily invested in Georgian businesses included 150 Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) companies.

Not the types you welcome with open arms.

Suspicions that Georgia had become an ideal haven to circumvent sanctions finally led to revoking visa regulations, as well as to freezing approximately “150 bank accounts tied to Iranian businesses and individuals” and refusing to issue licenses to Iranian banks (including an IRGC-affiliated bank) trying to enter Georgia’s financial sector.

It is not at all clear that Tbilisi altered its policy on its own, even if it did see the writing on the wall. A few weeks before its decision, the Wall Street Journal published an expose on the subject. In the background, two US Treasury delegations reportedly paid visits.

Thus another country learned – the hard way – how Tehran abuses diplomacy to exploit the host country and advance its wider goals.

Bosnia Shows Iranian Diplomacy the Door

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Iranian Diplomats in Bosnia, Jadidi Sohrab & Hamzeh Doolab,  Declared Persona Non Grata

Despite all the fanfare surrounding new Iran President Hassan Rouhani, for the moment it looks as if the West’s closed diplomatic doors to Iran will remain basically shut – at least until the new team delivers on its promises. And so Tehran can be expected to continue searching desperately for windows of opportunity in countries it views as especially vulnerable.

In this context, it should not come as a surprise that Iran often tries its luck in areas boasting local Moslem populations whether they are Shiite or Sunni, in the Balkans or the Caucasus.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that Tehran’s potential “victims” are naïve as to its intentions. Consider Bosnia-Herzegovina, for instance. The historical ties between Iran and Bosnia grew significantly thanks to former Bosnian President (and Islamic fundamentalist) Alija Izetbegovic, reportedly on Tehran’s payroll. It was widely believed that Iran’s influence since then was increasing.

That is, up until a few months ago. In May 2013, two Iranian diplomats, Jadidi Sohrab and Hamzeh Dolab Ahmad, were expelled from Sarajevo  and declared persona non grata for activities “in violation of their diplomatic protocol“. In fact, Sohrab and Ahmad were employed by Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and National Security (MOIS) and were intelligence officers suspected of involvement in subversion activities. A third diplomat, Muhsin Bayat Giashi, was expelled in June 2013 for violating immigration laws. As if to admit its wrongdoing, Tehran apparently has not taken reciprocal measures against Sarajevo.

Bosnia, like other states formed after the breakup of Yugoslavia, seeks to join the EU in the future and has aligned itself with EU policy in a host of areas (despite some lingering difficulties). For some reason, the expelled Iranian diplomats did not understand they were operating in hostile territory. Now they – and their superiors – know better.