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Iranian diplomat arrested for 'complicity' in dissident murder in Turkey

Vardanjani was shot in Istanbul in November 2019 [Getty]

Date of publication: 12 February, 2021

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Naserzadeh is accused of forging travel documents for Ali Esfanjani, reportedly the mastermind of the assassination of an Iranian dissident, in order to smuggle him back to Iran.
A diplomat at the Iranian consulate in Istanbul has been arrested for alleged complicity in the assassination of Iranian dissident Masoud Molavi Vardanjani in the city in 2019, the Turkish newspaper Daily Sabah reported.  

Muhammad Reza Naserzadeh, 43, faces charges of forging travel documents for Ali Esfanjani, reportedly the mastermind of the assassination, in order to smuggle him back to Iran.

Vardanjani was shot dead by Abdulvahap Koçak in November 2019, in Istanbul’s Şişli district. He was a former intelligence operative for Iran before moving to Turkey, where he announced his opposition to the Iranian government and started publishing information about alleged corruption by Iranian officials on social media.

Naserzadeh, who worked at the civic registry department of the consulate, became a suspect in the killing following testimony from Siyavash Abazari Shalamzari, who is thought to have helped Esfanjani flee to Iran following the murder.

The detained diplomat claimed that he was not in Turkey when the murder happened and that he did not know Esfanjani or the other suspects. Shalamzari claimed he saw Naserzadeh and another man he identified as Hacı Ağa pick up Esfanjani from Tehran airport after his plane landed.

“Esfanjani had a new ID under the name of Abbas. I called Hacı to tell him that his name on the ID was wrong. He told me he would contact the consulate and asked me to proceed taking Esfanjani to Iran anyway,” said Shalamzari.

He also alleged several Iranian intelligence officers also welcomed Esfanjani at the airport.

Turkish officials claimed in March 2020 that Iranian intelligence officials were involved in Vardanjani’s murder. They compared the case to that of Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post columnist killed and dismembered in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in 2018.

A TRT World reporter meanwhile said that he was attacked by Iranian consulate staff as he tried to film there late on Thursday, saying they tried to take away his camera while he covered Naserzadeh's arrest.

“We were just attacked outside the Iranian consulate in Istanbul by a member of the consulate as we attempted to film and ask him if he had any comment on the recent arrest of an Iranian diplomat alleged to have been behind the assassination of Iranian dissident Masoud Vardanjani,” Oubai Shahbandar, the TRT World journalist said in a tweet.


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